Late last week I was contacted by Stephanie Simon at the Wall Street Journal inquiring about the 2010 census and its implications. [And I didn't make the cut in her article today. Ouch! Ha!] Ms. Simon had run across FHQ's projected 2012 electoral college map and that served as her jumping off point, but as I was preparing some notes for our call, it occurred to me that the map and its projection create an incomplete picture of the process. Sure, we end up with the final product (the number of electoral votes (congressional seats) a projected number of states will gain or lose), but all the while, we are deprived of the background process. For instance, it is fine to speculate that Texas will gain up to four congressional seats/electoral votes. What, though, will the powers that be in the Lone Star state do with those new seats? That's the piece that's missing. Well, I suppose it isn't so much about what will be done in the gaining and losing states as much as it is about the likelihood of certain changes on the state level. That's what I want to look at a little more today. What outcomes are we likely to see on the state level and what factors affect those outcomes in the first place? The bottom line is that this whole process isn't necessarily as simple as saying, "Texas is a red state, so Texas will see significant Republican gains in Congress and in the electoral college."
Well, Texas may not be the best example.
First, let me note that I'll be focused here on the states projected to gain or lose congressional seats/electoral votes. Technically, all states have the option of redrawing their lines,* win, lose or draw, but I want to look specifically at those states that are forced to redraw their congressional district lines.
Now, let's tackle the redistricting process. No, I'm not going to get into the laws in each state other than to draw a distinction between those states where congressional redistricting takes place in the state legislature and those where the process it filtered through an independent commission. Of those in the latter category, only two are projected to gain (Arizona) or lose (New Jersey) seats. From the latest projection via the Census Bureau (minus Arizona and New Jersey), then, we are left with six states likely to gain and ten states likely to lose seats following next year's canvass. Let's look at the situation on the ground in those states, how that may or may not change in the 2010 elections, and what implications that might have for how news lines in those states are drawn.
|State Government Control (in states likely to gain or lose congressional seats following the 2010 Census)|
|State||+/- seats||Governor's Party||State House Control*||State Senate Control*||2010 Elections**|
|Arizona||+2||Districts drawn by commission|
|Georgia||+1||R||R||R||governor, house, senate|
|Massachusetts||-1||D||D||D||governor, house, senate|
|Michigan||-1||D||D||R||governor, house, senate|
|Minnesota||-1||R||D||D||governor, house, senate|
|New Jersey||-1||Districts drawn by commission|
|New York||-1||D||D||D||governor, house, senate|
|South Carolina||+1||R||R||R||governor, house|
|*Source: National Conference of State Legislatures|
**Source: National Conference of State Legislatures
***Next round of state level elections: 2011
What we see in the table above is the extent to which there is divided government (both interchamber and interbranch) across the sixteen states most likely to gain or lose seats. And though it is something of a minor point, given the general lack of partisan division throughout the majority of these states (especially the gaining states), we also see what offices are up for grabs in the 2010 midterm elections. For example, all six states projected to gain seats will have gubernatorial elections in 2010, but five of those six have only state House elections and not the entire legislature facing reelection next year. On the flip side, among states most likely to lose seats in Congress, eight of the ten have 2010 gubernatorial elections while half will see the entire legislature up for reelection (with the other half having only state House elections).
Well, what does any of this mean? For starters, it makes the claim that red states are gaining seats and blue states are losing them more then simply facially valid. That is true. But in these cases, the underlying political make up on the state level backs that up as well. Of the gaining states, all but Nevada have unified Republican control. The result? Well, I suspect those state governments are going to draw those new districts in a way that is going to maximize the number of Republican seats in the state's congressional delegation. But that's just a hunch.
The story is different in the states where population has increased the least (or decreased) over the course of the last decade. In only four states (and New York depending on how the Senate situation in the Empire state is progressing), is there unified Democratic government. With only two exceptions (Louisiana and Missouri), all of these states have Democratic governors, but there are varying levels of division between the executive and legislative branches or within the legislature.
The net effect across both types of states is that the gaining states will have a relatively easier time coming up with redistricting plans that are beneficial to the clear majority party in the states (the Republicans). In the losing states, however, there will be more of a discussion (if not all-out, partisan fight) over to how to go about drawing the new districts. After all, some current member of Congress is going to get squeezed out. Who that is, or more importantly what party they are from, will be the result of that "discussion."
Hypothetically, a unified government environment translates into a partisan gerrymander (benefiting the party in control) whereas a state where divided government prevails means that an "I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine" mentality pervades the state legislature. The latter case is more often than not a simple incumbent gerrymander where incumbents are protected over party label. Still, this creates quite a conundrum in those states whose congressional delegations will be trimmed. Which party loses a seat? The state legislative elections in 2010 and the extent to which Democrats remain in control of those chambers will have a large say in the alignment of the post-census electoral college in 2012 (much less the balance of power in the House.)
*If we really want to get technical, all/most states have the option of redrawing their districts whenever they want, whether immediately after the decennial census or not. It wasn't until the 20th century that midstream redistricting (those like Texas' 2003 redistricting plan after Republicans won full control of the state legislature) began to be frowned upon, or at least went out of vogue. It was quite common in the 19th century to see state legislative control change hands and quickly be followed by the implementation of a complete redistricting. For more on this see Carson, et al. (2006).
Edit: Please note that the table heading has been changed to accurately reflect the data contained therein. You have to love taking shortcuts that involve reusing the template from a previous table only to find yourself forgetting to change the original heading. I apologize for any confusion.
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