Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Gerrymandering decay

I totally buy the oft-told explanation that Republicans got themselves a lock on the House of Representatives by winning statehouses in 2010 and then controlling the gerrymandering for the 2011 redistricting in a bunch of key states. But I have not seen any discussion of one of the consequences of that theory, that the GOP will gradually lose that edge over the next seven years.

The population of residents in a House district are not static. Over time populations shift and demographics change. That's why the Constitution calls for redistricting every 10 years to account for those changes. The district lines drawn by republican-dominated states in 2011 were state of the art exercises of gerrymandering, using the latest computer technology to maximize Republican representation. My state, for example, has 18 seats in the House, five are currently held by Democrats and thirteen are held by Republicans, in a state that Obama won by more than five percentage points.

But until 2021, congressional districts are going to be based on the lines drawn using data from the 2010 census. That data is going to increasingly diverge from the actual situation in the state as the decade progresses.

2012 was the election year was the high water mark for the effectiveness of gerrymandering performed in 2011, because it was only 2 years out from the 2010 data that it was based upon. that effectiveness is going to fade with every subsequent congressional election until the district lines are re-gerrymandered in 2021, and we don't know who will control that process.

There's a tendency to look at the last election and project that result endlessly into the future. The GOP does not have a lock on the House forever (nor do the Dems have a lock on the White House forever). In fact, the trends seen in 2012 will already be a little bit different in 2014 and even more different in 2016. No one can say how they will be different. But they will be different. Change is the only constant.

Just something to keep in mind when you read people talking about how the deck is stacked in future elections. It is, but the stacking is not going to last forever and, in fact, it probably has already slipped a little bit.