Redistricting Has Democrats California Dreaming

Redistricting Has Democrats California Dreaming

By Sean Trende - June 15, 2011

Redistricting aficionados sat transfixed at their computer screens last Friday, waiting for the California redistricting commission to announce the first draft of the newly drawn lines for the Golden State. The stakes are high. In 2000, the state legislature adopted a brilliant incumbent protection map. It worked; party control of a House seat switched in only one of 265 general elections held from 2002 through 2010.

To prevent this from recurring in the 2010s, California voters approved a ballot initiative last year that transferred the power to draw legislative lines from the state legislature to an independent redistricting commission. That body was instructed not to consider the homes of existing representatives, nor were they to pay attention to political demographics. Instead, the goal was to maintain reasonably compact districts and keep communities of interest together. It was expected that this would scramble the California delegation.

The commission's draft did not disappoint. It appears to create 12 open seats, placing over one-third of California's current members of Congress in districts now represented by another incumbent. According to Daily Kos Elections number cruncher Dave Jarman, only a handful of the new districts contain more than 75 percent of their former constituents. The commission even went so far as to abandon the traditional numbering system for districts, adopting descriptive names such as "East LA-Boyle Heights" and "Foothills" rather than "4th" or "33rd" district.

From a partisan perspective, it is more of a mixed bag. Several suburban Republicans saw their districts moved more toward the inner suburbs and even into the cities -- and hence made more Democratic. David Dreier, Elton Gallegly and a few others will have a choice between retiring or moving. In that sense, Republicans probably got the worst end of the deal.

But a more careful exploration of the districts reveals that what the commission really accomplished was exactly what it was supposed to do: Generate a more competitive map. A district-by-district breakdown like the one I did for Illinois is too cumbersome for a state with 53 congressional districts. So let's instead try a big-picture approach by first looking at how districts voted for Barack Obama vs. John McCain under both the current map and new map:

This chart shows the 2008 presidential results by Obama's margin in each district, relative to his national margin. This is like PVI, but allows for finer gradations. President Obama won by about seven points nationally, so a district that he won by nine points would be scored D+2, while one that he won by six points would be R+1, and so forth. Republicans were competitive in districts up to about D+8 or so in the 2010 midterms, while Democrats made similarly Republican districts competitive in 2006 and 2008.

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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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