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Gerrymandering Isn’t Giving Republicans the Advantage You Might Expect

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There isn’t a shortage of reasons Republicans are expected to retake the House this yr, including President Biden’s low approval rankings and the long history of struggles for the president’s party in midterm elections.

But there’s one other issue that looms over the race for the House, one which doesn’t have anything to do with the candidates or the voters in any respect: the fairness of the newly redrawn congressional maps.

You would possibly assume that the House map is heavily gerrymandered toward Republicans, especially after Republicans enacted aggressive gerrymanders in critical states like Texas and Florida. Lots of you may even presume that this gerrymandering implies that the House isn’t merely prone to go to the Republicans, but that it’s also out of reach for Democrats under any realistic circumstances.

In point of fact, Republicans do have a structural edge within the House, but it surely isn’t anything near insurmountable for the Democrats. By some measures, that is the fairest House map of the last 40 years.

Here’s one technique to give it some thought: In case you imagine Democrats have an excellent likelihood to win the Senate, they must no less than have a likelihood to win the House — even when Republicans are favored there.

Let’s start with an easy fact: On the brand new House map, 226 districts would have voted for Mr. Biden in 2020, compared with 209 for Donald J. Trump.

With the primaries over, each parties are shifting their focus to the overall election on Nov. 8.

Now, Mr. Biden won the national vote by 4.5 percentage points, so even a map that’s biased toward Republicans might still have more Biden districts than Trump districts. But the easy undeniable fact that Mr. Biden won essentially the most districts is a transparent enough indication that the Republican advantage within the House isn’t totally insurmountable.

To account for Mr. Biden’s victory in 2020, a somewhat higher — though more complex — measure is required: a comparison between how districts voted and the way the nation as a complete voted. If Mr. Biden won a district by greater than he did nationally, it could be said to be a district where Democrats have the advantage if the national vote is tied. On a superbly fair map, half the districts would lean toward Democrats with respect to the nation, while half would vote for Mr. Trump or vote for Mr. Biden by lower than 4.5 points. And on this perfectly fair map, the district right in the center — the median district — would have voted for Mr. Biden by 4.5 points, identical to the nation.

So what does this House appear to be by those measures? The median district backed Mr. Biden by 2.1 points, a little bit bit more to the correct of the nation as a complete. And overall, there are 215 districts where Mr. Biden won by no less than 4.5 percentage points, compared with 220 districts where Mr. Trump won or where Mr. Biden won by lower than 4.5 points.

Each of those measures show a map tilted toward Republicans. To retain control of the House in our hypothetical, Democrats would want to win no less than three districts where Mr. Biden did worse than he did nationwide, including a district where he won by 2.1 points or less. Republicans could theoretically prevail by defending districts where Mr. Trump won or lost by lower than he did nationwide.

This can be a real Republican edge, but it surely is just not a frightening one for Democrats. Listed below are 3 ways to place it in perspective.

First, the Republican edge is flimsy. In a chamber with dozens of competitive races, a three-seat advantage just isn’t that much. If Republicans nominated just a few too many unelectable stop-the-steal candidates or if just a few too many Democratic incumbents proved too resilient, the Republican structural edge would evaporate.

Second, the sting is historically small. Actually, there are more Democratic-tilting districts — 215 — than at any time within the last 40 years.

As recently as 2012, there have been just 195 districts where Barack Obama had fared higher than average nationwide within the prior election. That was such a big advantage that you simply really could (and I did!) dismiss the opportunity of a Democratic win anytime soon, even when the party could narrowly win the House popular vote. Not anymore.

Third, the Republican structural advantage is fairly comparable to that of the Senate and the Electoral College — two bodies where, yes, the Republicans command structural benefits, but where nobody really questions whether the Democrats can win.

Consider this: While Democrats could win the House by carrying every district that Mr. Biden won by no less than 2.1 points, the Democrats would lose the presidency and the Senate in the event that they only won states where Mr. Biden won by 2.1 or more. Within the Senate races, Georgia and Arizona seats would flip to the Republicans, while Democrats would fail to flip seats in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio.

Or put otherwise, if Democrats can win the House races that resemble Senate contests in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada, they’ll probably win the House.

There may be one catch on this comparison, and here’s where gerrymandering comes into play: Democrats might want to win the next proportion of competitive districts than they do within the Senate.

For illustration, let’s define a “competitive” state or district using what we’ll call the North Carolina-Virginia range — meaning identifying every district that voted between Mr. Trump’s 1.3-point victory in North Carolina and Mr. Biden’s 10.1-point win in Virginia. This can be a convenient measure because each states diverged roughly 5.7 points from the national vote in 2020, North Carolina to the correct and Virginia to the left.

To win the Senate this yr in our scenario, Democrats would want to win 4 of the seven races within the Virginia-to-North Carolina range. To win the House, Democrats would want to win about 72 percent of the districts in that Virginia-to-North Carolina zone, or five in seven races.

Winning five of seven competitive seats is a troublesome burden for Democrats, especially in a midterm yr. But is it unattainable? It definitely isn’t unattainable for Democrats to win five of the seven key Senate races — in truth, Democrats might well be the favorites in five of the seven Senate races at once. A similarly impressive run within the House could be more of a challenge, but Democrats would bring most of the same benefits to the table — like stop-the-steal Republican nominees and a disproportionate variety of Democratic incumbents.

None of this implies Democrats are going to win the House. But in the event that they don’t, it is probably not so easy responsible gerrymandering.

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