Why does gerrymandering primarily benefit the Republican party?
July 2, 2013 6:12 AM   Subscribe

Per this blurb, there was serious gerrymandering in six Republican states vs. one Democratic state. Does the GOP benefit more from this practice because they engage in it more often? Or more effective when they engage in it? Are there some underlying institutional factors that tilt in their favor?
posted by dragonfruit to Law & Government (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For various reasons, mostly related to the rural-urban splits that characterize most US states, Republicans have much more state-level control than Democrats. It's not that gerrymandering is biased toward Republicans (though it's possible that Democrats may be more likely to dislike it personally and want to not engage in it, coming from or being beholden to groups that have been harmed by it in the past) - it's more that Republicans just have way more opportunities to engage in it.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:15 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, you only get to re-organize congressional districts after a census. So if you happen to have a wave of GOP victories in, say, 2010, you now have a ton of GOP legislatures that get to gerrymander the heck out of everything.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:25 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

A cynical person would say that the current Republican party has a win-at-any-cost mentality, and feels no shame about gerrymandering or limiting voting rights.
posted by theora55 at 6:29 AM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm not sure I believe the premise. Maryland doesn't show up in the linked blurb but it is heavily gerrymandered. As far as I can tell the issue isn't that there's any chance of us going red, but it's more used as a tool for ousting particular conservative politicians, and over time keeps getting more and more convoluted. There's a good map of the 3rd district in this article.

My guess would be that everyone gerrymanders as much as they can get away with and a lot of the impact is in more local politics.
posted by advil at 6:42 AM on July 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Gerrymandering is sought, utilized and prized by democrats as much as republicans. If you believe otherwise you've fallen victim to media propaganda &/or have not studied history and current events. There is no higher ethos employed by either political party. It's just politics and who is interpreting it.
posted by mbx at 6:42 AM on July 2, 2013 [11 favorites]

Tomorrowful has it. The GOP in the last few years has been much better at winning state legislatures, which are typically the bodies that draw district lines.
posted by lunasol at 6:48 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The other problem is that while gerrymandering might be bad for a party generally (at a macro level, it is driving the GOP to the right) it is also often viewed positively by individuals on both sides of the aisle because it creates safe districts for everyone. As an individual you might be exposed to a primary challenge, but that's probably better than having a strong opposing candidate in a 50/50 district.

Also: everyone should play this really fantastic game where you draw districts to experiment with the process of gerrymandering. Gives you a super intuitive sense about why and how it happens. (Having some troubles loading the game now, but that may just be me - hopefully it's not actually broken.)
posted by heresiarch at 6:55 AM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Redistricting only* happens once every ten years. After each census, states gain or lose congressional seats, which requires them to redraw their maps. The most recent census occurred in 2010, which also happened to be the same year as a republican wave election. The GOP took complete control of state governments and used their power to gerrymander the maps in their favor.

Conversely, in Illinois, the Democrats had compete control of state government for the first time in decades and similarly gerrymandered to their favor. If I recall correctly, there was also some light gerrymandering in completely democratic Maryland.

Gerrymandering isn't unique to one party or another. Any party that has compete political control over the Redistricting process will almost certainly gerrymander. It just so happened that after 2010, republicans had complete control over more states than democrats.

*See the mid-2000 Texas Redistricting, which arguably had a more distinctly partisan flavor to it.
posted by helloimjohnnycash at 6:57 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'd say it's because, in order to push-thought the sort of blatant gerrymandering we've seen recently, one needs to have unassailable majorities in state legislatures, and, where Democrats are in the majority, it's rarely so overwhelming. Republicans have done a far more effective job of taking all-but-total control of state legislatures, with a specific eye on the most recent round of redistricting.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:03 AM on July 2, 2013

I would agree with mbx -- this goes on for both parties. It gets media play now because republicans are doing it (2010 census means re-drawing combined with big 2010 wins for Rs, as others have noted). But it's easy to pull examples of hugely gerrymandered districts that benefit a D.
posted by k5.user at 7:43 AM on July 2, 2013

I'm not sure I believe the premise.

Me either. OP, what sources do you read that are as heavily right-leaning as Mother Jones is left-leaning? Here in New England we have some states that have been Democratic strongholds forever and they're carved up to keep it that was as well. It's not as though the concept is new, it just comes up for states that are in play now and the fact we have constant election coverage nowadays. And because everyone is shocked, shocked at how low the other side would stoop.
posted by yerfatma at 7:51 AM on July 2, 2013

Mother Jones is talking about seats gained in the last election. That's fair, because it's really hard to measure the seats kept by gerrymandering. I imagine there are a ton of heavily Democratic seats that were kept in the last election thanks to gerrymandering.
posted by sbutler at 8:16 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

The thing is, the number of state representatives is adjusted once a decade: it's updated based on the US Census's population count combined with the shifting location of that population. So if a party is in control that one year of the decade, the year the adjustments are made, then they can gerrymander the hell out of it, and there's nothing the other party can do but hope to be in control next time around.
posted by easily confused at 9:05 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd agree that the premise is a bit flawed.

However: one of the standard GOP templates for gerrymandering is to split up cities across multiple districts in order to dilute the influence of their voters -- the Texas legislature's dissection of Austin for federal redistricting set the precedent here. Democrats tend to prefer to keep cities as coherent political units, even if it doesn't always deliver the marginal electoral gains that can come from drawing district lines to the block level.
posted by holgate at 11:51 AM on July 2, 2013

Packing minority voters is to create a Minority District is something that does shift the game towards the Republican party. If a Democrat tries to make other districts more favorable to Democrats by diluting the black or hispanic vote, they're going to get a lot of outrage from both outside and inside the party. When a Republican creates a district consolidating all the minority votes in one supermajority, the party is happy with the increase in power, and the outrage from outside the party is mitigated by virtually guaranteeing a minority representative.

Urban areas are also more likely to be heavily Democratic, which makes it easier to pack their votes regardless of race or ethnicity. If either candidate is getting more than 60% of the vote in an open competitive race, it's inefficient. Half the Bay Area could move to Kansas and Nebraska, turning them blue, and still have enough strength to reelect the current batch of Democrats.

It's understandable why Oakland and Topeka aren't interchangeable to the average voter. But I think it also illuminates why Single Member District Representation will favor the rural voter in America (currently the Republicans).
posted by politikitty at 3:52 PM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

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