Momentum for change is feverish among Democrats heading into the 2018 midterm election season. But, despite strong results in special elections across the country, Dems still face an uphill battle to reclaim a majority in the House in 2018. Extreme Republican gerrymandering has resulted in a skewed electoral map.
Democrats need to take 24 seats from Republicans in order to win the House this November, and critical to this effort are battleground states like Ohio, North Carolina, and Wisconsin. But in 2011, when the Republican Party dominated the redistricting process, districts which leaned toward Democrats were meticulously hacked apart.
The Brennan Center researchers caution that because of the Republican gerrymander, Democrats will need to win the popular vote by 11 points to get the seats they need, a feat which neither party has achieved in decades.
Democrats can’t afford to get too confident about the size of their blue wave as they look toward November. And for this reason, the Brennan Center’s sobering prognosis of a steep uphill climb is worth keeping in mind.
But other analysts, such as Dave Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, offer a slightly more hopeful perspective. Wasserman argues that the geographic polarization of the electorate is an important factor in the electoral map right now, with more Democrats bunched in metropolitan areas, making it easier to draw ‘safe’ districts. He warns of the danger of making it all about gerrymandering. And he counters the Brennan Centers claim that an 11 point lead is needed, saying that if Democrats win by a 7 point margin, they should be able to retake the House.
But to discount gerrymandering altogether is foolish. As we saw in the recent effort to reverse a partisan gerrymander in Pennsylvania, fairness in district mapping is an elusive goal. When the State Supreme Court was deciding how to draw the new map, they worked to make the lines around districts as short and direct as possible. But, of course, Republicans took issue with the final map, claiming it was a Democratic gerrymander.
And, indeed, Democrats are not immune from bad behavior. Maryland and Wisconsin are currently in Supreme Court battles because of a supposed Democratic gerrymander.
Clearly, a more aggressive approach to rooting out gerrymandering on both sides of the political spectrum is needed. New York and California are good states to look at for guidance, as they have appointed independent redistricting commissions, to take the highly political task out of lawmakers hands.
But, as it stands for 2018, the Republican gerrymander will definitely be a factor to be aware of, and reason for Democrats to work as hard as we can to win by ample margins.