All signs point to Trump suffering a rout in two weeks, with Clinton’s chances of victory north of 80 or 90%, according to statistical analysis from both the New York Times and FiveThirtyEight. Donald Trump is the most unpopular candidate in modern history, and in elections past, he’d be dragging the rest of the party to a historic defeat in Congress as well.
But despite all this, there’s almost no chance the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives this election – or in the one after it – since Republicans in statehouses across the country have fixed the election process by redrawing the congressional district maps in several key states in 2010. They can retain a majority even when Democrats received far more total votes. (The Washington Post has a helpful graphic that explains exactly how gerrymandering works.)
It was a two-part plan. In 2010, they had to take control of all of the chambers. In 2011, they sat down with some of the most skilled mapmakers in the country, and they drew lines with the express intent of using redistricting as a partisan hammer to lock in control of the House for the next decade.
The results were dramatic. As Vox’s Andrew Prokop explained this week, “When Americans voted for the House in 2012, Democratic candidates won 1.4 million more votes than Republicans. Yet after the dust settled, the GOP ended up with a 234-201 majority in the chamber.” The liberal blog Daily Kos conducted a comprehensive study of gerrymandering in the 2012 House election and concluding that it “likely cost Democrats a net of 25 seats in 2012, more than the 17 they needed to claim a majority that year, and far more than the eight they actually did gain.”
Take Ohio, for example, which is generally a battleground state in presidential elections and is pretty evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Because of the radical redistricting Ohio Republicans implemented in 2010, they were able to carve up the map so that they have 75% of Ohio House seats. It’s so bad, a recent study showed you can predict the results of any race in Ohio with a virtual certainty just by knowing the political makeup of a particular district.
You can see how gerrymandering can manipulate election results in the Guardian’s excellent look at “the nation’s most gerrymandered district” in North Carolina, which was so narrow at one point state representative Mickey Michaux, a Democrat from Durham, once said: “If you drove down the interstate with both car doors open, you’d kill most of the people in the district.”
The United States district map would look radically different if computers, rather than partisan humans, drew the maps based on US census data. That’s why it’s encouraging that President Obama will reportedly make redistricting reform a central part of his post-presidency plans. Given the extent to which it affects our elections, it’s an underreported problem – and until it becomes a national scandal, it will persist.
Gerrymandering has several effects beyond just making it easier for one party to control the majority of seats in the House. It drives down voter turnout, since so many elections are lopsided and unopposed. It increases polarization and deadlock in Congress since a lot of congressional members don’t have to worry about a serious challenger from the other party. It also deprives minority groups of political power.
It isn’t a new problem; the practice is almost as old as the country itself, and Democrats have engaged in it as well. But no one has perfected it as well as Republicans did in 2010, and until the practice is done away with once and for all, democracy will suffer.