Congressional Redistricting Forecast

2010 Congressional Redistricting Forecast


In the year following the decennial census, states redraw their legislative districts in order to balance their populations to ensure all people have equal representation. This mechanical-sounding adjustment is required by the federal constitution, but much more takes place. Party leaders can use redistricting as an opportunity to help their incumbents win reelection by swapping undesirable constituents with those more favorable to the party, they can attempt to expand their majorities by creating new districts that their party may win, and they can wreak havoc on their opponents by grouping their incumbents together and diminishing their reelection chances by manipulating their constituencies. These redistricting strategies have a special name, gerrymandering.

The 2010 midterm elections are important not only for who will control offices until the next election, but also because 2011 is a redistricting year. Republicans are poised to gain a substantial number of seats in the House of Representatives and control of a number of governor and state legislative chambers in the 2010 midterm elections.

It is true that winning seats and control of the redistricting process can be beneficial to a party. However, close examination of the three-dimensional chess game that is apportionment, redistricting, and the 2010 elections suggests that Republican have a limited upside to redistricting beyond the congressional seats they gained in 2010.

In winning control of the House of Representatives, they did so in large part by sweeping elections in large battleground states like Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, states that Republicans also won control of the state government and the redistricting process. Republicans will need to defend their newly elected freshman, and here is their dilemma. To protect their freshmen, they will want to add Republican voters to their districts, but the supply will be short since Republicans will have won all of the competitive congressional districts in these states. Further complicating matters is that elections have become volatile since 2004; the margin of what is considered a safe district has increased. All incumbents will pressure their party leadership to beef up their districts with more red meat supporters. The upside to creating more Republican districts through redistricting beyond those they won in 2010 is limited. The irony is that Republicans would have been better off if they won control of the House of Representatives with narrower margins in these states so that they did not have to spread too many Republicans among too many districts to protect many vulnerable freshmen during redistricting.

In states like Georgia and Texas, where Republicans will likely control the process and seemingly have a lot of power, they already hold near the maximum number of congressional seats they can expect to win, as the remainder are mostly voting rights districts. At best, Republicans may be able to craft new districts gained through apportionment to their favor.

Important Questions to be Addressed

How will the 2010 midterm elections affect the impending congressional redistricting? There are several puzzle pieces that must be fit together to answer this question:

State Summaries