America’s once-a-decade adventure in political geography is nearly over, with redistricting season finally on the verge of wrapping up. As you probably know, America’s census is taken once every 10 years, in the year ending in “0,” and for the election immediately after that (the one in the year ending in “2″), all political boundaries must be redrawn to reflect the decade’s new population data. Most importantly, that means redrawing the boundaries of all the U.S. House districts, at least in all the states with more than one district. (It also, of course, means redrawing state legislative districts and even city and county council districts, but we’re going to focus just on the House.)
Unfortunately, the redistricting cycle came at a particularly inopportune time in the political ebb and flow for Democrats. In most states, redistricting of House seats is handled by state legislatures, with the state’s governor able to veto. The Democrats lost control of a number of important legislatures and governor’s seats as part of the 2010 wave election, though. That limited their ability to draw Dem-favorable maps in some states (as in the case of New York, where losing control of the state Senate took the legislative trifecta away from the Dems), and it also limited the Democrats’ ability to force compromise or court-drawn maps in other states by giving the GOP complete control over the process (for instance, loss of the governor’s chair and state Houses in Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania).
Why was that important? Because when there’s a wave election, usually a lot of dead wood gets washed up on the beach, and left there when the wave retreats. A lot of fluky Republicans won in 2010; in an ordinary cycle after a wave, there are usually pickups aplenty for the opposing party as the electorate returns to its normal balance and those fluky winners are left exposed. However, when the wave happens in a census year, that means the party swept into power also has more control over the redistricting apparatus, and is in a position to redesign districts to protect and entrench many of those fluky winners.
Blake Farenthold and Renee Ellmers are two cases in point: those Republican freshmen, if running in the same-configured districts this year as they did in 2010, would probably be on their way out the door. However, because Republicans in Texas and North Carolina, respectively, had control of the redistricting processes, they were able to craft entirely new districts for those two frosh that should preserve them for the next decade, even against any future Democratic waves. As you can see, elections have consequences … especially state legislative elections!
So, over the flip, we’re going to look over how the redistricting process shook out, state-by-state (leaving out, of course, the states with one at-large congressional seat). Rather than simply going through alphabetically, our look will try and look at which states were the big winners for Dems, and which ones were the big losers. As you’ll see, there are definitely more states where the GOP, on the balance, won. That doesn’t mean that the GOP will be gaining seats overall in the House; the effect of redistricting, as a whole, was more or less a wash, thanks to some Dem gains concentrated in a few blue states. However, as this article’s title implies, the fact that the Republicans were able to use redistricting to lock in so many gains from 2010 and protect many of their members from the usual fall-off that happens after a wave election, means that, by not losing ground, the Republicans should be viewed as the overall winners here. It’s more likely the effect will be felt by holding Democrats to a smallish but decent gain in the House, maybe 10 or 12 seats overall, instead of one in the 20+ range that would threaten the GOP’s newly-found majority.
The predicted changes in each state’s delegation isn’t a prediction of how every House race will actually shake out; it’s merely a description of how many seats are expected to shift purely (or mostly) as a result of the effects of redistricting. In some cases, it’s a pretty simple call, for instance, in states that needed to lose a seat and where the party in charge forced two members of the opposite party into one seat together (like Michigan and Pennsylvania), or in states where a new district was created and the new district leans pretty clearly in one direction (like Georgia and Washington). In other cases (like California, Illinois, and North Carolina), where a number of tossup races were created, there’s a lot of subjective guesswork involved. (We’ve calculated the Obama percentages of all new districts, if you want to see all the details, as well as maps in Google Maps of all the new boundaries.)