Veritium Political Insights
2022 Redistricting Summary
Updated: Apr 26, 2022
1. Maps are More Unfair Than Ever Before, at least on a State-by-State Basis
In 2013, Princeton molecular biology professor Sam Wang burst onto the political new scene, criticizing American political parties' gerrymandering habit in a New York Times opinion piece, “The Great Gerrymander of 2012.” Wang ended the piece by proclaiming, “It’s up to us to take control of the process, slay the gerrymander, and put the people back in charge of what is, after all, our House.”
By 2022, Sam Wang was helping New Jersey Democrats construct a gross gerrymander of their own, hoping to offset Republican gerrymanders around the nation. To make this contrast even more striking, Wang was working to undermine New Jersey’s independent commission, something he would have embraced just nine years prior. What happened?
In short, anti-gerrymandering proponents lost the war. Wang regards the “Great Gerrymander of 2012,” as a bit of a partisan affair, noting that 9 of the worst 10 gerrymanders were constructed by Republicans. This national bias helped Republicans handily win the US House in 2012, even as Democrats won more votes in house races. Throughout the decade, many Democrats railed to end partisan gerrymandering once and for all. After the Supreme Court decided to uphold all forms of partisan gerrymandering in 2018 with their decision in Gill v. Whitford, Democrats decided it was time to take action, rather than unilaterally disarm. Republicans passed gerrymanders in nine states while Democrats were successful in seven states. The redistricting battle has intensified as each side passes more and more unfair maps.
2022 Congressional Map Bias
We calculate our “Map Bias Score” by comparing the expected number of seats won by Democrats under the enacted maps versus the expected seats won by Democrats under fair maps. If the score is at or above 1 or -1, we consider this to be an “aggressive partisan gerrymander.” Under the previous lines, only 3 states with over 5 districts (all Republican) had aggressive partisan gerrymanders enacted. This number will triple under the new lines, as we expect 9 large states to have aggressive partisan gerrymanders enacted—OH, SC, WI, GA, TN, and FL for Republicans and OR, IL, and NJ for Democrats. Democrats had a fourth aggressive gerrymander in Maryland abated by state courts, passed a near-optimal gerrymander of New York that did not quite meet our standards, and passed efficient aggressive gerrymanders in the small states of Nevada and New Mexico.
2. Democrats Gained on a National Scale—House Bias is Nearly Even
Throughout the previous decades, Republicans held a considerable structural edge in the house. Depending on the year, the tipping-point seat in the house was anywhere from 3-6 points to the nation's right as a whole. By 2020, after Republican Gerrymanders in Pennsylvania and North Carolina were more fairly redrawn, the tipping-point seat moved closer to the center. While Democrats won the national House popular vote by 3.1% in 2020, Angie Craig (D-MN) won her tipping-point district by only 2.2%. This 0.9% Republican advantage was the smallest of the decade, but Democrats will possibly have an even more favorable map in 2022. Although only 47 of 50 states have finished their redistricting process, Democrats are set to gain through redistricting and could even enjoy a slight systemic advantage in 2022 (although if Ron DeSantis gets his way in Florida then Republicans will maintain a slight systemic advantage). According to statistical modeling, Democrats have gained five seats in an arbitrary political environment through this redistricting cycle, mainly through implementing brutal, effective gerrymanders in Illinois and New York. Republican gains have been concentrated in the Sun Belt as lawmakers passed effective gerrymanders in Texas and Georgia. Independent Commission maps have—with the exception of Arizona—favored Democrats, most notably correcting a GOP gerrymander in Michigan and creating a new Democratic gerrymander in New Jersey.
Control of the House will likely be awarded to the party that wins the overall popular vote this decade
3. State and Federal Courts had a Large Impact on the Redistricting Process
Democrats filed extensive litigation against nearly every Republican map (most comically against Kentucky’s map, which is biased towards Democrats compared to expectations). They received two big wins in North Carolina and Ohio, as State Supreme Courts struck down GOP Maps under extensive partisan gerrymandering. While the decision in North Carolina was on partisan lines, a Republican Justice in Ohio sided with Democrats to overrule the Republican gerrymander. These two gerrymanders were unfair but not significantly more flagrant than Democratic gerrymanders in New Mexico, Illinois, and New York. Arguably, Republicans overstretched by passing such brutal gerrymanders to two states where they knew it was a possibility for their map to be struck down and could have pursued more moderate gerrymanders to prevent their maps from being overruled. Democrats also filed suits under the Voting Rights Act in various heavily African-American southern states, including Alabama. 26% of Alabama’s voting-age population is Black, but Republicans passed a map with only one (of seven total) Black majority districts. While a federal district court panel agreed with Democratic plaintiffs and overturned Alabama’s map on lines of racial gerrymandering, the US Supreme Court reinstated Alabama’s map for 2022 and will hear a future case on the map’s constitutionality. Democrats are worried that the conservative US Supreme Court could even overturn Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act altogether, which is meant to ensure a proportional number of minority opportunity districts in each state.
Both Democrats and Republicans earned big wins as courts inserted themselves into the redistricting process
4. Incumbents are Generally Big Winners
In this redistricting cycle, the majority of new districts were drawn by partisan governors and state legislatures across the country. As United States Representatives tend to have much political power and pull within their home state’s legislature, maps are informally authorized by a state’s Congressional Representatives before they went into effect. State legislators hold close relationships with their congresspeople and prioritize them when drawing new districts. For example, Missouri Republicans could not crack the blue MO-05, a Kansas City-based district currently represented by Emmanuel Cleaver (D), because of opposition from Republicans within the state legislature. These Republicans were led by Mike Graves, a congressman representing MO-06 who would have had to incorporate portions of Cleaver’s blue turf into his district. Although Graves would have still had a comfortably red district, he pushed to keep the 6-2 status quo, saying “in a Democrat year it could be a disaster for the state if you make those districts so that you have so many un-commonalities within a district it could turn the state into a 4-4 state rather than a 6-2 state.” Graves’ friends in the legislature are likely to prevent this 7-1 map from happening, much to the dismay of national Republicans. Disagreements like these unfolded across America, such as in New York (where Democrats had to pursue a suboptimal gerrymander to please upstate representatives Brian Higgins and Paul Tonko) and Nevada (where Democrat Dina Titus saw her district move from D+20 to D+4 and complained, “I totally got fucked by the [Democratic] legislature on my district”).
Incumbents could not receive a better map than in Texas, where only 2 of 38 seats (TX15 and TX28) will be highly competitive throughout the decade. Republicans carved up metro areas such as Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston (pictured) with surgical precision, leaving no competitive seats in either urban area in the process. Instead of pursuing a more aggressive map, the new Republican-drawn map shores up nine seats held by Republican representatives that President Trump won by an average of 0.8 points in 2020 (TX-02, TX-03, TX-06, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23, TX-24, and TX-31). With these seats moving to the right under the new lines, President Trump won the latest versions of these seats by an average of 16.4 points in 2020. In exchange, Republicans shored up three previously competitive Democratic-held seats (TX-07, TX-32, and TX-34). These twelve new seats are drawn to stay uncompetitive for as much of this decade as possible, which pleases their current representatives.
More than ever before, sitting representatives are literally picking their voters.
5. The Number of Competitive Districts Plummeted
Due to universal partisan gerrymandering in states without independent commissions, the number of competitive districts has vastly increased under the new lines. As a result, the number of “competitive” seats we rate between R+5 and D+5 has, thus far, fallen from 37 to 30. And the number of “semi-competitive” seats we rate between R+10 and D+10 has fallen from 89 to 72. These changes mean that fewer and fewer seats will be competitive in each election cycle, and both parties may end up with more extreme coalitions in the house this decade.
An even smaller sliver of America will cast a meaningful US House vote this decade, as only 6.8% of districts are within a 5-point margin of the nation as a whole.
6. Recent Redistricting News
Ohio: Although Republicans in the Ohio State Legislature have passed another map (on March 2nd), it is unexpected to be upheld by the State Supreme Court. The State Supreme Court outlined specific guidelines for partisan fairness of a new map, which the most recent map does not satisfy. The 2022 midterms will be under this map, however. The State Supreme Court recently denied the new request (on March 21st) to sue the legislature’s new maps as “procedurally improper.” They did leave the door open for a new lawsuit to challenge the most recently approved plan. In the end, Democrats should be awarded three blue seats (one each in Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland) and a Biden-won seat based in Akron as well as at least semi-competitive seats centered in Toledo, Dayton, and the Columbus suburbs. The eventual map is most likely to be a slight boost for Democrats from the previous cycle.
Louisiana: Although Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards vetoed state Republicans’ 5-1 proposal in Louisiana, the Republican-held legislature overruled his veto to institute this map. This vote was very close, but even if the legislature did not override Edwards’ veto, the conservative Louisiana Supreme Court would have drawn a similar 5-1 map in light of SCOTUS’ reinstitution of Alabama’s similar 5-1 congressional map. The 5-1 map would keep the status quo from the last decade.
New Hampshire: Republicans in the New Hampshire State House and Senate tried to break decades of precedent and create clearer Republican and Democratic seats in the state for the next decade. Currently, both seats are competitive and held by Democrats. Republican Governor Chris Sununu noted that he wants changes to the current draft, and eventually vetoed the proposal. NH-01 represented by Chris Pappas) is still a tremendous pickup opportunity for the GOP in 2022.
Missouri: Although national Republicans hoped Missouri Republicans would break up Democrat Emmanuel Cleaver’s Kansas City-based district and pursue an aggressive 7-1 gerrymander, they have found their efforts stymied in the State House by allies of Sam Graves (MO-06). Graves was uninterested in adding significant blue turf to his district and risking a 5-3 result in a blue wave election year. Even though Republicans in the State House shored up Ann Wagner’s MO-02 in exurban St. Louis, conservatives in the State Senate still filibustered the map to prevent it from being passed. As a result, there is no clear way forward in the process, but Missouri will keep the 6-2 status quo for the next decade.
Florida: With Republicans in control of a “trifecta” in Florida, conservatives hoped for a brutal, surgical gerrymander to balance similar Democratic maps in Illinois and New York. These pleas were answered by Governor Ron DeSantis, who proposed a map that would likely break 20-8 towards Republicans in 2022. The map was controversial, even among Republicans, since it cracked the (possibly) VRA-mandated FL-05 and drew an awkward water-connected Tampa-St. Petersburg district to pack Democratic voters. Republicans in the state legislature drew a more moderate gerrymander, likely to break 19-9 in favor of Republicans in 2022, with an upside for Democrats to gain a tenth seat in a more neutral political environment. DeSantis announced he would veto this map, and state Republicans have recently caved to DeSantis. Republicans should expect to flip a seat in both the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas in 2022, improving their margin from 17-11 to 19-9. Whether DeSantis can legally break up FL-05, pushing the Republican margin to 20-8 will be another story.
How did we calculate these map bias scores? First, we analyzed over a thousand past house elections, modeling a party’s chance to win a seat based on its partisan lean in a neutral national political environment. Next, after manually creating congressional maps in 44 states deemed “fair” by a variety of standards on Dave’s Redistricting App and PlanScore.org, we performed statistical analyses to model how many seats a party should expect to win on a fair map given the partisan lean and the number of congressional districts in the state. Map Bias Scores are calculated based upon the percent difference between expected seats for Democrats under the fair and actual Congressional maps. Positive numbers favor Democrats and negative numbers favor Republicans. Since this metric is only meant to measure proportionality between a state’s partisan lean and its expected partisan breakdown, it does not take into account the geographic makeup of a party’s coalition in a state. There may sometimes be good reasons for a Bias Score to not exactly equal 0.0. For example, Democrats benefit from favorable geography in states such as Nebraska and Kansas (where their minority coalition is concentrated in the urban areas of Kansas City and Omaha) and in New England (where Democrats spread their majority coalition across rural areas, small towns, suburbs, and cities). Democrats also occasionally benefit from the VRA (Voting Rights Act), which requires the establishment of a black-opportunity district in states like Mississippi and Kentucky. Conversely, Democrats are prone to poorly organized geographic coalitions in Midwestern states such as Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Illinois, naturally packing their voters in major cities such as Minneapolis-St. Paul, Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago and cracking their remaining voters between smaller cities spread across the state such as Rochester, Beloit, La Crosse, Peoria, and Champaign.