Thursday, August 11, 2016

In 2016, GOP gerrymandering might backfire in House, and in Wisconsin

Penn State's John Gastil had a great article up yesterday in the Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” blog illustrating how the best laid plans of Republican oligarchs may be going astray as Donald Trump keeps falling further behind Hillary Clinton.

The article discusses with the numerous House districts that have been gerrymandered to favor Republicans since the 2010 elections and the subsequent redistricting. Gastil notes that there is a flip side to rigging districts to your favor- when you’re the GOP, and want to give artificially high numbers of districts to your party, you have to distribute the GOP voters across more districts. This can water down advantages in previously heavy GOP districts, and leaves you very vulnerable if a big wave were to hit.

It’s paid off for the GOP so far, as they were able to maintain a majority of House seats in several states Barack Obama won in 2012 (including Wisconsin). But Gastil quantifies how vulnerable this can make them to a big Dem victory.
Pennsylvania illustrates this strategy. In the 2012 election, Democratic congressional candidates won about 75,000 more votes than did Republican candidates, but the GOP captured 13 of 18 seats. Four of the five Democratic districts had been packed with Democratic voters. The safest of these districts scored D+38 on the Cook Report’s Partisan Voter Index (PVI), which means that voters in this district backed President Obama in 2008-2012 by 38 percentage points more than the national electorate.

By contrast, the GOP currently holds four marginal districts, rated as R+2, R+1, or Even. Another six GOP districts are R+5 or R+6. The remaining three are R+9 or higher.

The Pennsylvania pattern holds up nationally, where the GOP holds numerous marginal districts. The chart below shows PVI ratings for all of the GOP’s House seats. Republicans hold 37 districts rated R+2 or lower and 18 at R+3 or R+4, for a total of 55 marginal districts. Democrats, by contrast, hold half as many.
If you drill into the Cook Political Report PVI sheet that Gastil mentions, you can see how the gerrymandering works here in Wisconsin. Our state gave Barack Obama wins of 7 and 14 points in 2012 and 2008 respectively, but still has a majority of its districts lean Republican.

WI-1 (Ryan) R+3
WI-2 (Pocan) D+17
WI-3 (Kind) D+5
WI-4 (Moore) D+23
WI-5 (Sensenbrenner) R+13
WI-6 (Grothman) R+5
WI-7 (Duffy) R+2
WI-8 (Ribble- OPEN) R+2

But what the Cook report also shows is that Obama’s 14-point win over McCain in 2008 would have resulted in the President winning every Wisconsin district outside of Sensenbrenner’s with the maps drawn as they are today. With that in mind, look at what would happen if Clinton were to wallop Trump by 10 points nationally- 55-45 in a two-person comparison. Using Cook’s PVI stat, that means the nation would be Dem +5, so slide all of those districts accordingly.

WI-1 (Ryan) D+2
WI-2 (Pocan) D+22
WI-3 (Kind) D+10
WI-4 (Moore) D+28
WI-5 (Sensenbrenner) R+8
WI-6 (Grothman) EVEN
WI-7 (Duffy) D+3
WI-8 (Ribble- NOW OPEN) D+3

And that’s before getting into the factor of the individual candidates running in each of these districts. While that reality may help the Congress members that are known quantities or have big money behind them, like Ryan and Kind (heck, the GOP isn’t even contesting Kind’s seat), it also can hurt them more with lousy/crazy candidates (cough-GROTHMAN-cough).

This leaves the WisGOP Congress members in a pickle. With Clinton and Russ Feingold both up big in this week’s Marquette Law School poll, the pieces are in place for the gerrymandered advantage to be off the board because of the Dem lean of the voters. Now these GOPs have to work hard to retain their seats in November, and with the GOP-run Congress and Trump being hated more than Clinton in most places, they may be inclined to promote their independence from the Donald and the antics in DC. But those same GOP CongressMEN need the Trumpkin vote to win those races (especially Duffy, Grothman, and Gallagher in WI-8), so it seems likely that they can’t rip on Drumpf’s flailing candidacy either.

Meanwhile, the Dems just need to take advantage of this rare opportunity to make the many GOP gerrymanders backfire. The combination of voting history and current polling numbers show that the door is wide open for the Dems to take back a lot of legislative seats in November. This is especially true in Wisconsin, both at the state and Congressional levels, as the state’s GOP-leaning districts have been sliced so tight than they can snap into the blue range due to this perfect (Trump Shit) Storm.

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