Gerrymandering Does Not Explain All Those Democratic Losses Over The Past Decade

Even before Democrats were blaming their losses on absurd claims about Russian meddling, they would often respond to data like I presented yesterday on Democratic losses by blaming gerrymandering. I would often point out that this does not explain the magnitude of Democratic losses over the last decade. Although many Democrats do not seem to understand how gerrymandering works, I would point out that it has zero bearing on state-wide races, including governors, Senators, and electoral votes in the general election. I would also point out that gerrymandering has often been done to protect the incumbents in both parties, and that Democrats have lost many elections based upon lines drawn while the Democrats were in power.

Democrats who ignore their actual problems, such as failure to stand for anything other than being slightly less conservative than Republicans, are not likely to give up on their favorite excuses. However, if they are willing to listen to another source, Jeff Greenfield has made many of the same arguments I have made in an article entitled The Democrats’ Gerrymandering Obsession–Turning to the courts won’t solve the party’s fundamental problem: connecting with voters:

What ails the party—at every level—goes far beyond alleged Republican skulduggery. And a diagnosis of those ills requires an understanding of what the past decade has wrought.

The Democratic Party, as I wrote here even before the 2016 wipeout, finds itself in its worst shape since the 1920s. From its perch in 2009, when it had a (shaky) filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, a 256-178 majority in the House and control of a majority of states, it has seen a precipitous collapse. That fall began in 2010, when a wave election brought a loss of 63 House seats, six Senate seats—and, most notably—massive loses at the state level. Republicans gained control of the Legislatures in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan, and won 29 governorships.

These defeats did not happen because of gerrymandering (or voter suppression, for that matter), because Democrats had control of the politics before 2010. (When Democrats had political control in North Carolina, for example, it had some of the most unrestrictive voting laws in the country.) In order for the GOP to use its power to entrench its majorities, it had to win those majorities in the first place. That happened because Republicans and their conservative allies poured resources into a workmanlike effort to win control over state politics, while Democrats were mesmerized by the more glamorous fight to win and hold the White House.

Well, isn’t extreme partisan gerrymandering still a noxious tool whose end would help Democrats? Yes, but not nearly as much as you might think. To understand that, look more closely at what has happened in the past four elections. In 2009, Democrats held 60 Senate seats. They now hold 48, counting the two independents who vote with them, Bernie Sanders and Angus King. Some of those losses came in deeply red states, but Democrats also lost seats in competitive places like Colorado, Iowa and Wisconsin. Governorships are now in Republican hands not just in battleground states like Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin but also in Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont, where blue has been the predominant color for years.

What do governorships and Senate seats have in common? They cannot be gerrymandered. What has happened, rather, is that the Democratic Party has lost touch not just with the white working class, of which we’ve heard so much this past year, but with a much broader segment of American voters. When a party loses a statewide election, it’s not because their opponents have cleverly divided their voters into a district or two, or because their voters are “clustered” in a city or two; it’s the product of a larger political failure…

Fundamentally, the crux of the partisan gerrymandering issue is this: The Democratic Party might celebrate a Supreme Court decision that puts limits on the practice, but to substitute that hope for the work of winning elections again is not simply an illusion, but a highly dangerous one.

Republicans have taken advantage of gerrymandering and correction of some of the abuses will be beneficial, but as Greenfield wrote, Democrats are delusional if they blame all their problems on gerrymandering (or Russians), and even a favorable Supreme Court decision on gerrymandering won’t save the Democrats if they do not fix their fundamental problems.

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2 Comments

  1. 1
    SocraticGadfly says:

    And, in 2010, Obama did a horrible job of hitting the hustings for House candidates, governors, etc. Presidents in general in modern times distance themselves somewhat from the national party apparatus after election, but he was ridiculous.

  2. 2
    Bob says:

    The Obama DOJ also seemed to ignore prosecuting the Wall Street players who had crashed the economy, reinforcing the idea the party no longer stood for working people.

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