A Preview of 2012 Redistricting

A Preview of 2012 Redistricting

By Sean Trende - November 11, 2010

As bad as 2010 was for House Democrats, 2012 could be even worse. Republicans don't have a lot of exposure, since most of their gains were in red territory. More importantly, Republicans will control more seats in redistricting than they have since the states began regular decennial redistricting in 1972.

Using census estimates of where population is growing and falling within states, as well as Dave Bradlee's handy redistricting application, I offer my thoughts on how redistricting will most likely shape things in 2012. If I don't discuss a state, it just means that I don't see any meaningful changes occurring. To determine which states will gain/lose seats, I use, which sorts through the complex redistricting formula. Please note that these are based off of census estimates, not final numbers; in 2000, most observers were surprised when North Carolina gained a seat and Utah did not.

Obviously, legislatures are strange beasts and can do any number of things with redistricting. Some have estimated that Republicans will gain as many as 30 seats from redistricting. I see the most likely scenario being Republicans picking up a dozen or so seats from Democrats as a result of redistricting, although the upside on that prediction is probably with the Republicans. Remember, candidate recruitment and the national environment can cause a gerrymander to boomerang on a party that spreads itself too thin: Pennsylvania legislators thought they had enshrined a 13-6 Republican delegation; by 2008 it was 12-7 for the Democrats.

Alabama: In 2002, the Democrats were limited in how heavily they could gerrymander Alabama, since the Voting Rights Act forces them to pack their most reliable voters into the majority-minority 7th district. Democrats took African American voters in Montgomery out of the 2nd District and pushed them into the 3rd District in a futile attempt to flip that district. Look for Republicans to shore up the 3rd by extending the 7th into Montgomery, while moving some Birmingham-based African Americans into the uber-Republican 6th District.

Arizona: Arizona is a favored to gain a seat, and it will have to be located in Maricopa County. Reapportionment here is done by commission, making this a bit hard to predict. Given that Republicans already control the delegation 5-3, an independent commission divvying up a swing state would probably end up drawing another Democratic seat here.

California: Democrats decided to draw an incumbent-protection scheme here in 2002. They probably regretted it, as Democratic gains were limited in the late ‘00s. Now, an independent commission will do the drawing. Given how horribly gerrymandered the state's Congressional districts are, it is impossible to say what the effect of drawing compact districts will be here. The GOP probably has more upside, since they hold only 35 percent of the seats while getting about 45 percent of the statewide Congressional vote in 2010.

Colorado: In 2000, Democrats used their control of the state senate to force a redistricting impasse. A judge ultimately selected the Democratic plan. Republicans won't be able to undo this map this cycle since they don't hold the governorship or the senate, but Democrats would have a hard time coming up with a map that weakened any Republicans without jeopardizing the 2nd or the 7th. If redistricting deadlocks again, there's not likely to be much change here.

Florida: Florida is presently slated to gain a seat. Republicans have overwhelming control of the legislature and hold the governorship, but a successful ballot initiative placed limits on how much they can gerrymander. The present Miami-area districts are atrocious-looking, as are the Orlando seats, but that is necessary to comply with the Voting Rights Act. Some degree of gerrymandering will occur, but it is hard to see how the Republicans squeeze another Republican district into Central Florida (where the sharpest population growth has been) while still complying with both the VRA and the ballot initiative. In addition, they'll have difficulty shoring up vulnerable districts like the 10th and the 22nd under the law; the 10th is extremely vulnerable to flipping if Bill Young retires.

Georgia: Georgia gains a seat, and the Republicans will control redistricting. They will probably have to shore up Sanford Bishop in the 2nd to comply with the Voting Rights Act, but the new district will need to be drawn in the heavily Republican Atlanta suburbs. Also, look for Democrat John Barrow's district to be decimated.

Illinois: Illinois loses a seat. With uniform control of the legislature and governorship, Democrats are free to take aim at the 11-8 Republican delegation. They'll be somewhat limited in what they can do given slow growth in Chicago and the need to draw four minority-majority districts there, but you can bet the district that is eliminated will be Republican (probably the 17th) and that at least one suburban district will be drawn unfavorably for Republicans (probably the 10th or the 6th).

Indiana: This is another under-the-radar Democratic gerrymander from 2000 that will probably be undone. Republicans will surely shore up the newly-won 8th and 9th districts, and will probably look to weaken Joe Donnelly's district, perhaps by moving South Bend into the 1st. If Republicans are feeling overly-ambitious, the numbers actually work out to create a majority-minority district by combining Gary with Indianapolis through a thin strip up I-65, leaving a probable 8-1 Republican delegation in the state, but Governor Daniels doesn't sound like he'd back such a plan.

Iowa: This state loses a seat. Districts are drawn by commission, although the legislature must approve the plan. The legislature is split, but it is hard to see a 3-1 Democratic delegation in this swing state under any neutral plan. My guess is one of the Democrats loses a seat.

Louisiana: Louisiana loses a seat, and it can't be the minority-majority 2nd, even though its population is down 27.4 percent. Instead, the 2nd will probably have to be extended over into Baton Rouge to meet Voting Rights Act requirements, which is good news for Bill Cassidy in the 6th. It isn't such good news for incoming Representative Jeff Landry, who will almost certainly see his district combined with that of another Republican.

Maine: Maine actually doesn't redistrict until after the 2012 elections, but if Republicans hold on that long, they might try to make the 2nd District more Republican, if only to put it in play for the Electoral College.

Massachusetts: No real drama here: One district has to be eliminated, and it has to be a Democrat. Population estimates suggest the 1st would be the one to go, but Democrats would love to pay 9th District Representative Stephen Lynch back for his apostasies.

Michigan: Michigan loses a seat. Republicans could play it safe and eliminate one of their own districts. The problem is that, even if they wanted to do this, the population losses are occurring in Democratic districts. My guess is that Gary Peters' district is dismembered, with the Democratic parts going into the 12th District (which in turn will be losing constituents to the 13th and 14th) and the Republican parts used to shore up the 11th and 8th.

Minnesota: Right now it is neck-in-neck between Minnesota and Missouri for the 435th district, with Minnesota holding the short straw. With a Democratic Governor and Republican legislature, the Republicans will probably find themselves unable to complete their longstanding goal of combining Minneapolis and St. Paul into one district. If the governor and legislature can't agree, a judicial panel will draw the map. The 4-4 split between the parties makes it hard to predict a loser, especially since the Republican districts have been growing sharply and 3 of the 4 Democratic districts lost population. A panel would probably opt to draw a Republican and Democrat into an evenly-balanced district.

Missouri: If Missouri loses a seat - and it is teetering on the edge of doing so - the dynamic here will be fascinating. The Republicans almost have veto-proof majorities in the legislature, and could collude with African American legislators to override a gubernatorial veto (as Democrats feared would happen in 2000). While Democrats would like to see the 4th District eliminated, that would probably threaten Emanuel Cleaver in Kansas City. The St. Louis-based 1st District will need about 100,000 new voters, and it is barely majority-minority as it is. Given this, it would likely be Russ Carnahan's 3rd District that gets the axe, as the St. Louis Democrats in the 3rd are pushed into the 1st.

Nevada: The legislature is Democratic, the governor is Republican. The most likely scenario is that the Republicans' hold on the Third District is shored up, and the new district will lean toward the Democrats.

New Jersey: After the 1982 redistricting debacle, New Jersey adopted a bipartisan redistricting commission. Alan Rosenthal of Rutgers University, an Independent, is usually the deciding vote, and this year he will have to choose a seat to eliminate. Population trends suggest a North Jersey district has to be eliminated, and with the minority-dominated 10th and 13th needing more population, the likely loser is the 8th. The Republican-held 7th could also be eliminated, though that could make the Democratic-leaning 12th and 6th more competitive.

New York - New York will lose one district and is on the cusp of losing a second. Assuming Republicans maintain their leads in the state Senate, they'll probably look to give up a seat upstate in exchange for shoring up other districts, or maybe improving their state-level map. If the state loses two seats, population shifts suggest a Democratic seat in western New York and a Republican seat on Long Island would be the likely targets.

North Carolina - This Democratic gerrymander is so effective that Republicans won 55 percent of the statewide vote in 2010 while getting 45 percent of the seats. Look for that to change in 2012, as the Republicans control redistricting. Depending how aggressive they are, as many as four Democratic seats could be imperiled, though three is more likely.

Ohio - Ohio loses two districts. Republicans are talking about using their control of the redistricting process to eliminate both a Republican and a Democrat, and then shoring up their remaining seats. The Democratic 13th was spared in 2002 because then-Governor Taft didn't want Sherrod Brown challenging him. Betty Sutton isn't as formidable a politician, and is a likely candidate for "odd-member out" this time. Republicans could conceivably extend the 9th over into Cuyahoga County and combine it with the 10th, and could even extend the black-majority 11th down through minority precincts in Akron and over into Youngstown, in a bid for at 14-2 Republican delegation. But that would leave them spread pretty thin. Instead, look for freshman Republicans in the 6th and 18th to find their districts combined.

Pennsylvania - This state loses a district, and Republicans aren't afraid to draw ugly lines here. It'll almost certainly be one of the western Pennsylvania districts that goes; my money is on combining the 12th with the 14th.

South Carolina - Gains a district. Republicans have some votes to spare here, so expect a new Republican district. The only potential problem is if the Republicans have to draw an additional minority-majority district.

Texas - This state gains four districts. The Republicans used their mid-decade redistricting to create extremely Republican districts, forcing longtime Democratic incumbents out. They will probably relax these districts a bit now. With population trends, two districts will have to be in Houston, one in Dallas, and one in Austin; the growth is in heavily-Republican areas. The only real questions are how much they can shore up Blake Farenthold in the 80 percent Hispanic 28th, and whether they try to go after Democrat Lloyd Doggett in Austin, who had a surprisingly close 2010 race.

Utah - Jim Matheson is probably on borrowed time here, although Republicans have tried to redistricting him out before and failed. Utah will also get a new district, which should go Republican.

Virginia - The legislature is split, so I would suspect that Republicans will trade shoring up the 2nd and 10th districts for giving Gerry Connolly a safer seat.

Washington - This state gains a seat. Looking at demographics, the most likely scenario is for a Democratic seat to be created in King County, but for Dave Reichert's district to become safer for the Republicans.

Sean Trende is senior elections analyst for RealClearPolitics. He is a co-author of the 2014 Almanac of American Politics and author of The Lost Majority. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SeanTrende.

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