Many Democratic strategists and activists have been expressing fears that partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts will give Republicans an unfair advantage in the United States' 2022 midterms. But Data for Progress' Joel Wertheimer, in an analysis published this week, argues that the redistricting news for Democrats may be better than previously thought.
"Conventional wisdom suggests that, because Republicans control more of the redistricting process than Democrats, they will inexorably benefit from this redistricting cycle," Wertheimer explains. "But an analysis of each of the 50 states' specific or expected outcomes leads to the opposite conclusion: when redistricting is finished, more districts in 2022 will be to the left of Joe Biden's 4.5-point national margin against (Donald) Trump than in 2020, and there is an outside chance that the median seat will be to the left of the nation as a whole."
Wertheimer adds, however, that his analysis "only looks at whether a seat is to the left or right of Joe Biden's margin in 2020 and not whether a 'seat' is gained or lost in redistricting, as Cook Political does."
"Given the significantly reduced power of incumbency, the key question for determining power in a given congressional election is the partisan lean of the tipping point congressional district," Wertheimer notes. "This is also the most relevant small-d democratic concern: in an election that results in a 50.1% to 49.9% split, are the voters in the 50.1% able to elect the Congress of their choosing? Even if Democrats lose power this year, the partisan valence of the map may allow them to regain the House in 2024 — unlike in 2012."
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2010 saw a major red wave, with Republicans retaking the U.S. House of Representatives that year just as they had in 1994. President Barack Obama, who described the 2010 midterms as a "shellacking" for his party, was reelected in 2012. But Republicans held the House that year and regained the U.S. Senate in 2014.
According to Wertheimer, "In the 25 states that have concluded redistricting or are single-member states, and where the maps are not facing state courts that are hostile to the maps, Democrats have improved their standing compared to 2020 — with a net of 16 seats moving to the left of Joe Biden's +4.5 national margin in 2020."
This week, the Cook Political Report's Dave Wasserman also weighed in on the possible effects of redistricting, tweeting:
The American Enterprise Institute's Norman Ornstein, in response, tweeted:
Wasserman noted that, nevertheless, Democrats are quite likely to lose control of the House in 2022. And he argued that the party could've sustained a much stronger advantage through gerrymandering, had fewer Democrat-controlled states opted for non-partisan redistricting commissions.
Wertheimer, in his Data for Progress analysis, poses the question: "Why is the conventional wisdom suggesting that Democrats are doomed this cycle so wrong?" And he goes on to answer it.
"First, analysts are failing to compare to the relevant baseline: the 2011 redistricting cycle," Wertheimer argues. "In 2011, Republican trifectas or veto-proof majorities controlled the redistricting of 219 seats, whereas Democratic trifectas controlled the redistricting of just 44 seats, with at-large districts, split control, or independent commissions deciding the remainder. This cycle, those numbers are 193 Republican and 94 Democratic seats, due to Democratic consolidation of power in blue states like New York and the introduction of commissions in a number of states…. Second, Democrats have been much more aggressive this cycle, and in particular are unpacking their own seats."
Wertheimer continues, "Illinois and Oregon gerrymandered much more aggressively for explicitly partisan purposes than Democrats have in the past…. Third, and conversely, Republicans have not used their gerrymandering power as aggressively as Democrats towards a goal of maximizing the overall partisan lean of the national map."