Redistricting Supercharges Republicans’ Bid to Control U.S. Congress
(Bloomberg) -- Republican efforts to regain control of the U.S. House in next year’s elections are getting a boost as GOP-controlled state legislatures redraw congressional districts to favor the party’s candidates.
Thirteen states have already finalized new maps in the process called redistricting. The redrawn boundaries have reduced the number of competitive House seats by a total of 12, giving Republicans the upper hand over Democrats, said Michael Li, a redistricting expert with the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University..
Republicans were already favored in the 2022 midterms because the president’s party historically loses seats. The political climate has worsened for Democrats as independent voters who did not support former President Donald Trump are increasingly open to Republican candidates. President Joe Biden’s approval rating has suffered because of Americans’ dissatisfaction with the economy and the recovery from the pandemic.
The new maps finalized so far make it easier for Republicans to gain seats by creating more solidly GOP districts, Li said.
“They’ve decided we’re better just keeping what we have but making those districts really safe,” Li said. “They are betting that that’s probably enough for them to win back the majority in 2022 and then keep it in 2024 and 2026.”
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census releases a population count. That drives a once-a-decade process by which states draw new congressional maps. This year’s redistricting takes place ahead of the midterms that will determine control of Congress and Biden’s agenda.
In Texas alone, Republicans produced a map reducing the number of competitive districts to three from 14 and highly competitive districts to one from six, Li said. That’s done through gerrymandering, or manipulating the boundaries of districts to create a bloc of voters that favors one party.
Many states including New York are still completing their redistricting, and there’s litigation against finalized maps in Alabama, North Carolina, Texas and Oregon -- with Democrats promising more challenges.
The maps completed so far show partisan gerrymandering could be even more intense than after the 2010 Census, generally viewed as the most aggressive in history, said Richard Born, a political science professor at Vassar College who studies redistricting. Republicans flipped 20 state legislative chambers and five governorships in the 2010 elections to exert control over redistricting.
Since then, the methods of drawing district boundaries has gotten more sophisticated with better tools and data, Born said. He cited as an “obscenity” the process in North Carolina, where Republicans increased the number of GOP-leaning districts to 10 from eight, and in Democratic-controlled Illinois, where Republicans were left with only three favorable districts.
“The standard rule about gerrymandering is both sides do it if they have the opportunity, but the Republicans have been lately doing it more than the Democrats because they had more of an opportunity,” Born said.
Democrats are better positioned than last time to influence congressional maps but still lag Republicans’ power. The GOP controls redistricting in states with 184 congressional seats -- down from 210 a decade ago. But Democrats control the drawing of just 75 seats.
The remaining 176 seats are drawn by bipartisan governments and independent commissions, and six states have only a single district that doesn’t need to be redrawn.
The maps approved for next year’s elections will be in place for the next decade in most cases, so Republicans’ advantage could extend beyond the midterms, Li said.
“Democrats were always likely to lose the House in 2022. The real question is whether they have a path to winning it back in 2024 and 2026,” Li said. “That road has gotten a lot harder from what we’ve seen so far.”
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