Before we put all the blame on our elected officials, let’s always remember - we are very difficult to represent within the two-party framework.
Did Ross Perot help elect Bill Clinton in 1992? Our read on the data: yes, yes, and yes again.
Take a look at our model for the House of Representatives for the 2016 election.
With the 2016 presidential and congressional elections dominating the headlines, it can be hard to remember that Barack Obama is still the President and that Congress still has work to do. TPP is an objective President Obama has been pushing for; but will it stick?
Our latest national poll takes a look at sentiments surrounding one of the most important issues currently gripping the nation - gun control.
The prosecution recommended a six-year sentence, but Brock Turner, the star swimmer at Stanford University got just six months. The recent national discourse around this case seems to show we have come a long way in terms of openly recognizing and addressing the problem of campus sexual assault. But it’s cases like Turner’s that remind us just how much more needs be done.
It’s been a common refrain virtually every election cycle: this is the year that a third party will make noise in the presidential election. Jill Stein of the Green Party is thought to be able to take away disaffected Bernie-or-Bust Democrats, but the most breathless coverage has been reserved for Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party. Will 2016 be the year of the Independent candidate?
There has been a lot of talk about the large number of voters in the Republican primaries, and Donald Trump is taking the credit for turning out new voters. But are these actually new voters?
Now that Trump is moving on to the next phase of the election cycle, there has been concern among both Democrats and Republicans about what a Trump presidency would look like. Most pundits have become a little gun shy when it comes to Trump predictions, while some have even gone as far as to say that he exceeded expectations in the primaries and there is a good chance he could do it again in the general. Which got us thinking- does he actually have a shot?
Typically, we don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what the Republican Party is doing. However, this year, the dynamics on the right side of the aisle are beyond interesting. We therefore decided to look at the potential outcomes of the primary and the possible ways the different factions of the Republican coalition could deal with Trump – both at the Convention as well as in November if he becomes the nominee.
If the electorates in presidential cycles going back to the 1976 election (the year detailed exit polls are available) looked as the electorate did in 2012, what would the previous results look like? Our hypothesis is that if the Democrats would have won every election (or most), then the gains for Democrats (or the losses for the GOP) are purely demographic in nature, and if not, then there is an additional factor or factors pushing the current advantage.
The rise in popularity of public polling during the last few campaign cycles has driven a more data-centric approach of politics. Here, we analyze the methodological difference between our research platform, Trendency, and Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight, with a focus on determining the outcomes of presidential primaries.
November 3, 2015
Demographics of the Freedom Caucus as well as the latest polling on how Americans view the relationship between science and religion . Read the update here.
June 23, 2015
Latest numbers on the fastest growing population group: Multiracial Americans, as well as polling on Catholics’ views on global warming. Read the update here.
June 2, 2015
New data showing the significant changes to the American religious landscape, plus new polling numbers on the shifting family makeup as well as more left of center opinions on “moral issues” across the country. Read the update here.
May 5, 2015
Partisanship breakdown by generation, as well as recent polling on same-sex marriage and views on global warming. Read the update here.
April 14, 2015
Changing demographics, as well as recent polls from the Pew Research Center on the partisan divide and smartphone usage. Read the update here.
March 31, 2015
Study of household incomes under recent presidents and polling on fears of environmental problems. Read the update here.
March 12, 2015
2016 calendar with the latest dates of primary debates and elections, as well as recent polling on race and ethnicity. Read the update here.
February 26, 2015
President Obama’s proposed budget, recent polling on ISIS, and the top 100 public colleges across the nation. Read the update here.
February 2, 2015
Future growth of Hispanic and African American populations and recent polling on the Affordable Care Act. Read the update here.
January 20, 2015
2015 Congressional Calendar and Forecast, and Pew Research Center’s data on women and leadership. Read the update here.
Hillary Clinton is in Trouble! Her poll numbers are tanking! Kevin McCarthy’s gaff has saved Clinton! Donald Trump is a joke! Donald Trump will be the next GOP nominee! Clinton is saved by debate! Carly Fiorina is the likely next nominee! Ben Carson jumps to a lead!
Clearly journalists like nothing more than some good clickbait, and both parties have their own special way of handling these daily headlines. Democrats, in general, are great at overreacting to news stories, and Republicans are very good at over-stating their chances based on headlines; this year has been no different. But outside of the ups and downs of the daily headlines, has anything really changed when it comes to the dynamic of the race?
Recently we looked at the upcoming presidential election and discussed how our model predicts that there is a clear Democratic advantage in 2016. Additionally a few months back, we looked at how 2016 was going to be an uphill climb for Republicans. As we discussed in this second piece, the GOP could (in theory) help in not making their task Sisyphean. In order to win, the GOP nominee will need to start by sweeping Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia (which would get them to 266 electoral votes). Then they would need to pick up four more electoral votes to win the Presidency. Our PAAR model pointed to Colorado, New Hampshire, and the upper-Midwest trio of Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa as the only viable paths to hit 270. We look at this as a one out of five preposition since it is extraordinarily unlikely that, for instance, Republicans lose Ohio, but sweep Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin.
The question for Republicans was what strategies and policies would be able to provide that essential victory in one of those five states. The GOP even went through a research project after the 2012 election to determine what they would have to do to win. Overall, their findings were similar to ours: they need to focus on Hispanic voters, young voters, and women. The problem for the GOP is that no one on the Republican side seems to be listening.
Two years later, Republicans are not exactly attempting to change the tide. Brash, outsider candidates are currently dominating the Republican polls and are digging the party further into the hole among key General Election voters. But can Republicans change the dynamic of the race and engineer an upset? Technically yes, but so far it looks doubtful.
In the aftermath of 2012, it seemed like the Republican Party had realized their demographic challenges and were prepared to endorse immigration reform to win back Latinos voters. However, this was never going to work as well as Republicans imagined. It is not simply a matter of passing immigration reform and voters then flocking to the GOP. There are plenty of other real policy issues, especially with younger Latinos, that would have likely prevented Republican support from being much higher in 2016 anyway. In addition, there have been almost 10 years of disparaging comments coming from the right. From Republicans walking away from comprehensive immigration reform under President George W Bush, to Mitt Romney advocating for self-deportation in the 2012 election, and now we have Donald Trump calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” in his campaign announcement, and then doubling down. To add insult to injury, Trump is now campaigning on building a wall across the US-Mexican border. Then, instead of walking away from Trump’s positions, the rest of the Republican field has tripped over themselves to match Trump’s immigration policies.
While the wide Republican primary field currently comprises two Hispanic candidates, neither Senator Marco Rubio nor Senator Ted Cruz appear to be the party’s easy answer to recruiting Latino voters. First, both Rubio and Cruz are Cuban-Americans, representing a small and unique subset of the Hispanic population in America. In 2013, Cuban-Americans only made up 3.7% of the Hispanic population in the U.S. and the Cuban-American population is older, more educated, has a higher income, and are more likely to consider themselves “a typical American” than the overall Hispanic population. Additionally, Cuban-Americans’ politics differ from that of most Latino voters. For example, in 2012, among Latino voters overall, 61% wanted to leave Obamacare in place and only 25% wanted to repeal it. However,among Cuban-Americans, only 42% wanted to keep it while 43% wanted to repeal Obamacare. Said in a more succinct way, Cuban voters are clearly Hispanic but should not be considered blindly as Latino voters.
Secondly, many of the policy positions that both Senator Rubio and Senator Cruz have taken are at odds with the views of the vast majority of Latino voters, particularly immigration. Indeed, walking away from the 2013 immigration deal hurts Senator Rubio among Latino voters as a majority (54%) would have been likely to consider voting for him for president if he “played a key role in helping to pass this bill”, while 65% are not likely to consider voting for him since he voted against the bill. Additionally, prior to the 2014 election, 68% of Latino voters strongly supported President Obama’s executive action on immigration, a plurality (45%) said that immigration reform was the most important issue facing the Hispanic community that politicians can address, and over two-thirds said that immigration was the most important or one of the most important issues in their voting decision. It is unlikely that the current Republican candidates have convinced Latinos their immigration plan is better. Even if Republicans don’t drive Latinos away with their immigration plan, their insistence to repeal Obamacare will also hurt them. Ever since its signing, more Latinos have had a favorable opinion of the Affordable Care Act than have had an unfavorable one, with Obamacare currently favored by 50% of Latinos.
This is certainly not going to help Republicans as they try to win back states like Colorado and Florida. It also isn’t going to help them put Nevada back in play as some party operatives hope.
Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin still hold the most theoretical promise for Republicans in 2016. Two years ago we suggested that if the party nominated someone like Paul Ryan or Scott Walker to try and steal one of those states, they would have a chance. When Ryan elected not to run, Scott Walker seemed to be a good enough Midwestern stand-in. However, Walker’s campaign was short lived.
Out of all of the five options, these states are probably the most receptive to the xenophobic, nationalistic platitudes that Donald Trump has run on thus far. In 2012, 93 percent of Iowa voters were white, and white voters accounted for 86 percent of the turnout in Wisconsin and 87 percent in Minnesota. Among the swing states, only New Hampshire had a comparable share of white voters. However, the live free or die state is much less likely than the agricultural and manufacturing dependent Midwest to support Donald Trump’s unique brand of protectionism.
While there is disagreement on the likelihood of Donald Trump’s ability to win the Republican nomination, his current front runner status makes his opinions and policy ideas carry much greater weight, and will likely have an impact on how Republicans in general are viewed by voters in these states.
This all being said, we need to remember that Wisconsin has not given their electoral votes to a Republican since 1984, and for Minnesota you have to go back to 1972. Iowa supported George W Bush in 2004, but before that you also had to go back to Ronald Reagan in 1984 for the last time the Hawkeye State was a Red State. Furthermore our PAAR model shows the Democratic nominee should receive a majority support in MN (52.8%), WI (53.7%), and IA (53.3%).
Much like with the Midwestern states, the candidate that we suggested might get the Republicans over the top could be Rand Paul. However much like Scott Walker, Rand Paul has not had a very good summer. Additionally, New Hampshire has some unique extremes among swing states. It has the highest percentage of white voters, a low percentage of over 65 year old voters, but the highest percentage of 45-64 year olds. Virginia is the only swing state with a higher percentage of highly educated voters, and voters with more than $100,000 in income.
These highly educated, wealthy, middle-aged, white voters are different from the standard Republican supporter, and it is easy to see why almost every statewide election in the past decade has been close, but the only win Republicans have managed was Kelly Ayotte’s dominating win in 2010. It would not be surprising if a non-Senate Republican, such as Ben Carson or John Kasich, tired to talk Ayotte into becoming their running mate to both gain someone well-regarded in the Republican foreign policy establishment and to try to win New Hampshire. Not that it would actually help them, or that Ayotte would be likely to drop her bid for re-election to run in the number 2 slot.
While our PAAR projections for 2016, that we ran three years ago and revisited earlier this year, acknowledge that candidates and campaigns can have a major impact on the final result, there has not been any evidence that Republicans are doing the kinds of things necessary to overcome their poor starting position. Republicans have continued to ignore or belittle the Latino vote and witness their candidates with the best chance to change the narrative fall short in the crowded primary. A little more than a year out, something about the trajectory of the race on either the Republican or Democratic side will need to change or the 2016 presidential election will likely be handed to the Democrats.
For a downloadable PDF of the white paper, click here.
Earlier this year, using our PAAR model (Percentage Above Anticipated Result), we made our projections showing that Democrats are heavily favored to retain the Presidency in 2016. As a reminder, these projections are based upon our thesis that as elections are more and more nationalized and voters are increasingly locked into their partisan preferences, demographic changes within the electorate ultimately play the deciding factor in electoral outcomes. PAAR does not attempt to make exact predictions for every race, but instead is a measurement that shows what a candidate should receive based on their party affiliation. We believe that by recognizing those candidates and campaigns that did or did not live up to expectations, we can help identify new strategies for upcoming elections and manufacturing future wins.
Said more directly, we need to stop viewing wins as the only measure of success. Similar to baseball moving away from home runs, batting average, and runs batted in as the only measures of a player’s worth, campaigns need to move away from only viewing a well-run campaign as a campaign that wins, with no other context placed around the results.
As a quick refresher, unlike most political models, our model uses no polling results and does not take the specific candidates or their backgrounds into account. Instead, our model is based heavily on demographic patterns and past election results. And although we don’t have a model for House of Representatives races, even the most rabid partisan Democrats recognize that the House will remain in Republican hands after this election cycle. The Senate, however, is a different story.
In 2014, we projected four months ahead of the November elections that Democrats should lose majority control of the Senate, with Democrats and Independents holding 47 seats versus 53 seats for Republicans (actual result was a 46-54 split). As we discussed in our look back, Democrats on average did -2.5 points worse than they should have, while Republican candidates averaged 0.3 points better than expected. Overall, just six Democratic candidates over-performed expectations (seven if you count Greg Orman who ran as an independent in Kansas), compared to 15 Republican candidates that did better than expected.
Since November 2014, Democrats have been consoling themselves with the understanding that the map in the upcoming Presidential election year will be more favorable to the party, and that the Senate will be back in Democratic hands after 2016. The problem for Team Blue is that although the map is much friendlier in 2016 as compared to two years ago, incumbency is incredibly powerful and Republicans have a number of strong incumbents running for re-election. As we look toward the outcomes of next year’s Senate elections, our PAAR model projects that Democrats will likely come up just short with 49 seats, although the races in Florida and Ohio should be razor thin, and neither side is viewed as having a lock on winning the majority.
Where Pundits and Partisans are Wrong
Every election season, certain races get touted as dark horse seats that the political parties plan to use to expand their maps. Nonetheless, these races almost never end up being close. For every Heidi Heitkamp, there are dozens of Carly Fiorinas, Alison Lundergan Grimes, Michelle Nunns, etc. and 2016 will certainly have its share of these races as well.
For example, Politico recently published a ranking of 15 close Senate races for 2016. While 15 is an expansive number for the article to discuss, the piece should have capped it at eight, as the last seven are pretty unlikely to occur. Among the competitive races ranked 9th to 15th, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, and Kentucky all have incumbents in deeply red states. And while Georgia is trending toward purple, it has a long way to go before it’s truly competitive, with PAAR projecting the race at 56.3 to 41.6 in favor of Team Red.
Additionally, PAAR likes Richard Burr’s chances to cruise to easy re-election in North Carolina, and puts Michael Bennet at a relatively easy 6-percentage point win in Colorado. Overall this is what the landscape looks like according to our model:
Republican Held Seats
Democratic Held Seats
To put these numbers in perspective, in 2014 only 10 races had candidates that were 5 points or more off from their PAAR score (8 on the positive side for Republicans and 2 on the positive for Democrats) and only half of these were contested elections. Said in another way, only 5 Senate elections in 2014 were both contested and the results were well above expectations.
Seats most likely to flip
Based on the PAAR projections, there are three seats that are projected to switch hands in 2016, each from Republican to Democrat: Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. Let’s start with the man who is universally regarded as the most likely incumbent to lose in 2016, Mark Kirk in Illinois. Kirk has carved a reputation as moderate, but the demographics of Illinois in a presidential election are likely simply too much for him to overcome. His situation is virtually identical to what we identified for Mark Begich in Alaska in 2014. Begich, a moderate incumbent, was barely elected in a wave election for his party, in a state that heavily favored the other party. Just as Senator Begich ended up performing better than his PAAR projection, we expect Kirk to exceed his projections, but there is no precedence for overcoming Kirk’s PAAR gap of 15.7 points.
In Pennsylvania, the PAAR model is more bullish about Democrats chances than many pundits are, putting a Democratic victory in the state at a margin of 51.8 to 47.2 percent. Additionally, PAAR views this race similarly to Illinois. Here, a Republican narrowly won in a Republican wave year, in a state that has consistently otherwise given Democrats statewide victories and assumes the Democrats will take back the seat. Until recently, Democrats struggled to recruit a candidate they liked for the race. However, with the entry of Katie McGinty, a Democratic primary against Joe Sestak is now in play to determine who will face off against Senator Pat Toomey. And while we don’t know yet who will win the nomination, the fact that Senator Toomey is now an incumbent after narrowly winning last time to Sestak leads the model to predict that this should not be enough to keep Senator Toomey in office.
Finally, Wisconsin is rated nearly identical to Pennsylvania at 51.3 to 46.9 percent. However, unlike in Pennsylvania, Democrats in the Badger State have gotten what they wanted, a rematch of 2010. By drawing former Senator Russ Feingold back into the race, the model points to this being a tight race, but Democrats clearly have a very good chance of matching our projection and winning in Wisconsin.
The Deciding States
There are four races that PAAR projects to be within 3.5 percentage points: New Hampshire, Ohio, Florida, and Missouri.
In the Granite State, Republican Kelly Ayotte is exactly the kind of swing state popular incumbent that will make this a very challenging pick-up for Democrats. Looking back, New Hampshire has gone to the Democrats in the last three statewide elections: the most recent Senate election and the last two gubernatorial elections. However, none of these victories have been by a large margin and New Hampshire is not a state where Democrats have been helped by demographic changes. Democrats will probably have to convince popular Governor Maggie Hassan to run, and even then it is far from an assured victory. Our model points to a GOP victory by a 50.4 to 47.1 margin.
In Ohio, Rob Portman may be even tougher than Ayotte to knock off for very similar reasons. Portman has crafted a more moderate image in the state and has shown to be a prolific fundraiser. Given that we are predicting Ohio to be the second most important state in the Presidential and Senate elections, it is a safe bet that Ohioans will be bombarded by campaigns on all fronts for the next 14 months. The intensity of the focus of both races could cut either way. Portman’s popularity could help the Republican presidential nominee, or Hillary Clinton’s coattails may be enough to sink Portman in a close race. PAAR gives the GOP candidate a slight edge at 49.5 to 47.8, but clearly neither party is viewed as starting this race with a likelihood of attaining a majority level of support.
The closest projected race in PAAR’s estimation is in Florida, with a spread of just 1.5 percentage points separating the candidates. This is assuming Marco Rubio will abide by his pledge to not run for the seat should he lose the Republican nomination for President. If Rubio were to run for re-election, this would be a considerably safer seat for Republicans (this is not a judgement on him as a candidate, but the power of incumbency). The recent dominance of Republicans all across the state gives the party a very deep bench of candidates to select from. For Democrats, the race appears to be down to Representatives Alan Grayson and Patrick Murphy. The chances of Democrats winning the seat and getting to a 50-50 Senate split are higher with Murphy than Grayson, but the race will likely be very close no matter who ends up with the nomination. PAAR gives the Republican candidate a slight edge (46.3 compared to 44.8), and also points to the true swing nature of the Sunshine State given the relatively low PAAR rating for both candidates.
While PAAR has proven to be very accurate in most states, there are two Senate projections that are unlikely to occur. As we noted in our 2016 Presidential preview, the PAAR model is most likely overstating Democrats’ chances in Missouri. The combination of Obama’s strong performance in 2008 and Todd Akin’s implosion in 2012 make the model assume that Missouri is far more of a toss-up state than it actually is. Although Democrats were able to recruit their top candidate, it’s very hard to imagine Missouri ending up as the third-closest Senate race in 2016.
Much like Missouri, PAAR is also likely overstating Democrats chances in Indiana. Again, Democrats are buoyed by Barack Obama’s unlikely win in the state in 2008 and by Richard Mourdock’s 2012 debacle running for Senate. It is hard to fathom that this race will turn out as PAAR projects and be closer than say Nevada.
Which brings us to the interesting case of the Silver State. The Democratic candidate is favored by 7.3 points, however, the PAAR model prediction puts the Democratic candidate just under the 50 percent threshold (49.4). Senator Harry Reid had a close race in 2010, but his previous elections we less in question. Additionally, although the lack of an incumbent is lowering the chances for Democrats, the Republican candidate will have to run a near perfect race to make up for the 7 point deficit we are predicting they will start with.
Control of the Senate in 2016 projects to be much closer than either the Presidency or the House. Since Republicans only need to over perform in one race, the Presidency, to get unified control of the federal government once again, Democrats must not take the Senate lightly and should not expect to be handed the majority simply because of a favorable map. Republicans are well-positioned to retain the majority and we project that the most likely outcome is that they will. But good candidates and well run campaigns can exceed expectations, so Democrats should not lose hope. A pick-up of six seats is not out of the realm of possibility for Democrats, although neither is winning just three seats.
For a downloadable PDF of the white paper that includes the appendix, click here.
Over the last several months, frequent headlines point to the increasing number of Independent voters in the country as a tell-tale sign that more of the American electorate is up for grabs. On the other hand, evidence shows that many “Independents” are in fact ideologically conservative and likely to be disaffected Republicans.
Both analyses miss a vital group: True “Moderate Independents” – voters who do not align themselves with either party and also consider themselves ideologically between the two parties. Although they comprise just 5 percent of the electorate, they also promise to have outsized impact in 2016.
Read more here.
With the Supreme Court’s recent decision that non-partisan redistricting efforts are indeed constitutional, the call to adopt non-partisan redistricting commissions in other states has grown. Two years ago we assessed how non-partisan redistricting efforts were being oversold as a way to promote closer elections and more moderate candidates. While we certainly support non-partisan redistricting over the current model, we need to understand what the likely outcomes are of these efforts. As we discussed in the previous memo, people throughout the country have been self-sorting so that Democrats typically live near other Democrats and Republicans typically live near other Republicans. This has made it so creating compact districts actually results in heavily partisan districts that end up electing even more partisan candidates.
All of this is not to say that we are opposed to independent commissions drawing the lines. Independent commissions prevent party leaders and representatives from picking their voters to protect their jobs, and they give voters more confidence in the legitimacy of their representatives and the districts. We support independent redistricting commissions and the benefits of their theoretical goals, but in most cases, commissions’ intended aims do not match up to the end result. If the goal is to create competitive districts, non-partisan commissions will not solve the problem.
In most articles about redistricting, authors focus on ensuring either geographically compact districts orrepresentative ones, where the percentage of red and blue districts reflect the red and blue breakdown of the state. This approach, in which making maps that have 40% Democratic districts because 40% of the state votes Democratic, is one way of looking at gerrymandering, but it does not solve the problem of gridlock in Washington and state capitals. Instead, this would create more partisanship by making safe but “representative districts,” essentially closing the door to moderate candidates. Instead of the representative or geographical approach, we looked to create maps that would result in the highest number of competitive districts humanly possible with the intended outcome to be more moderate candidates.
With that in mind, we want to show just how bizarre some districts would have to look in order to produce competitive districts throughout states. Utilizing a web tool, we have created a series of new Congressional district maps that result in competitive districts that would allow moderate candidates to win. We aimed to make as many districts as possible no worse than a 53-47 partisan split. While looking at all 50 states would be fun, for the purposes of this piece we assess fictitious districts in Wisconsin, Virginia, North Carolina, Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, and Louisiana.
As you will see, if you think some districts look ridiculous on paper now, making congressional districts competitive can be even worse. Clearly most of these districts do not meet the compact goal for districts, and would never be approved by a panel. This being said, if changing the way Washington does business, we as a country, or as states more accurately, will need to consider other options at our disposal such as top-two primaries (also known as Jungle Primaries) if we want to put a premium on results over partisanship.
Wisconsin illustrates what will become a common theme among all the states in trying to make as many competitive districts as possible. The major cities, in this case Milwaukee and Madison, need to split their concentrated votes among several districts. Milwaukee is split between the purple, dark blue, and green districts, and Madison is broken up between yellow, purple, and red.
The Wisconsin map also illustrates the other problem with trying to make all similarly competitive districts that some districts simply cannot end up competitive. In Wisconsin’s case, the dark blue, green, purple, yellow, red, and blue green districts are almost all 50-49 districts, but the light purple district will be a romp for Republicans every election, and gray also favors Republicans.
The Wisconsin map would clearly never survive a legal challenge if the districts were drawn this way. The red and blue-green districts certainly ignore the idea of being compact, but these districts would make it much harder to be an extremist candidate.
Virginia doesn’t have as many egregious districts as Wisconsin, but nearly half of the eleven districts have tentacles reaching into Northern Virginia to split the heavily Democratic area across as many districts as possible. The blue, light purple, pink, blue-green, and yellow-green districts all stretch out to balance out the more rural areas in the rest of the district with plenty of liberal Democrats. Only the light blue district in the southwest portion of the state is unable to achieve a 53-47 party split.
North Carolina was lambasted for its most recent redistricting effort as the state went from being gerrymandered in favor of Democrats to being gerrymandered in favor of Republicans. The blue and purple districts in our map pay homage to the state’s proud history of gerrymandering. All of the resulting districts are at worst 54-46 and most of the districts are much closer. While these districts may not be visually appealing, but they are certainly more competitive than the state’s recent efforts.
The light purple district in the eastern part of the state, would win the prize for least compact district, and clearly would never pass legal muster, but this is what it would take to make this portion of the state competitive.
Our Minnesota map is the most radical departure from the state’s actual maps as all eight of the districts enter the Minneapolis, St. Paul metro area, and fan out to cover the state. However, even after breaking up the state’s biggest reserve of Democrats into all eight districts, each of the districts ends up slightly favoring the Democrats, but all are competitive except for the blue district which also includes the state’s Iron Range Democrats.
The liberal states
While most of the states in this analysis are swing states, we wanted to look at some of the states that have reputations for gerrymandering their districts. Maryland, New Jersey, and Illinois received a lot of criticism for their most recent maps favoring Democrats. We wanted to put these states to the test to see how different the maps would have to look to be balanced. However, the problem is that these states are so liberal in their voting patterns that there simply aren’t enough Republican voters to make all of the Districts even, no matter how bizarrely the districts are drawn.
In New Jersey, the state leans so heavily Democratic that we had to expand the definition of competitive to 55-45, and the light blue and light purple districts still exceed that threshold. The New York suburbs had to be split among six districts, and they were still too stuffed full of Democrats. Only the two districts that stretch to the other side of the state, the yellow and gray districts manage to get to 52-48 in favor of the Democrats. Northern New Jersey is simply too Democratic to produce even districts.
The Maryland map is fairly boring compared to most of the other maps because the state voted so liberally in recent elections that the closest to competitive is the blue district containing all of the conservative western portion of the state. This district would still be 55-45 in favor of Democrats and it only gets worse for Republicans in the other districts.
In honor of the Illinois gerrymander, our Illinois map is also one of the more blatant gerrymanders. The blue and green districts stretch from Chicago in a thin band down to the Southern portion of the state. Meanwhile, the orange district wraps around both of those districts. Once again, Chicago had to be split up as many ways as possible but it still wasn’t possible to spread out all of the concentrated Democratic votes in the north evenly with the rest of the state.
On the Republican side, both Missouri and Louisiana are prime examples of conservative states with heavy gerrymandering, but unlike the heavily liberal states, both were a bit easier to make balanced districts. The liberal states tended to have massively concentrated pools of Democrats which were nearly impossible to break up, whereas the conservative states still have the liberal pockets but they are surrounded by areas ranging from conservative to very conservative. This pattern allowed for creative map drawing to reach balanced districts.
In Louisiana, the six new districts are virtually identical in partisan splits, just a hair closer than 55-45 in favor of Republicans. Again, half of the districts share in parts of New Orleans, and virtually every other major city is broken into multiple districts.
For Missouri, the districts ended up being more competitive than Louisiana and the liberal states we looked at before. With the exception of the blue district, which heavily favors Democrats, every other district is a 53-47 split or better. Amazingly, each of the eight districts ends up including either a portion of the St. Louis or Kansas City metro areas, all taking a sliver of the metro area and then filling up with as much of the rest of the state as they can.
Clearly this is not the direction congressional maps are going to head in. The requirement for compact districts that are at least somewhat similar would result in most of these maps being laughed out of the room. No one could propose the North Carolina, Minnesota or Missouri maps with a straight face.
It most likely wouldn’t even be a worthwhile end result. Some of the states, such as Maryland or Louisiana, are so one-sidedly partisan that adopting these maps would simply ensure that the other party got no representation in Congress. To make matters worse, the districts would still be one-sided enough that the winning candidates could be just as extreme as the ones we hoped to move past.
However this is a useful thought experiment to show that even with the best of intentions to create maps that favor moderate candidates, most states simply can’t get there. Non-partisan redistricting may eliminate some of the most outlandish gerrymandering, but people’s own choices about where to live have already guaranteed that nearly every district is either solidly Democratic or solidly Republican. If people are sick of the partisanship in DC, they need to get comfortable with it because it is not bound to change anytime soon.
For a downloadable pdf of the whitepaper, click here.