Reposted Yet AGAIN: The “Gerrymandering” Red Herring!

I can’t believe this “gerrymandering” crap still hangs on in October 2015. This is basic math, for chrissakes!

To obtain a majority in the House, you need 218 seats. In the 29 states that actually register voters by party, Republicans have 27 percent of registrations, which means three-quarters of voters are NOT registered Republican. Got it? Nationally, between 23-25% of voters identify as Republican. It is mathematically NOT POSSIBLE for such a minority to gerrymander themselves into a majority.

I originally posted this on January 3, 2013, and it’s still valid. Stop believing this gerrymandering nonsense. Not only does the math not hold up on a national basis, but espousing this very concept makes many voters think their votes won’t count. It’s one of many things we say that results in depressed turnout, which helps the GOP win. If you think about it; the GOP doesn’t actually have to gerrymander, because our incessant discussion of it probably cost more votes than they could steal.

And one other thing; anyone can come up with reasons why we “can’t” do things; that takes no effort or imagination at all. No matter what you think the problem is, we have to overcome it. Constantly citing it as a problem doesn’t help; in fact, it hurts us, because it makes people think the system is rigged and their vote won’t count. Low turnout is killing us, NOT gerrymandering.

Here’s the article once again:


The professional left’s latest chew toy is based on the concept of gerrymandering.  Basically, the argument goes, Republicans kept a majority in the House due to gerrymandering. It’s an interesting concept, but what makes it interesting is that they are so SURE they’re right about this, despite the fact that it’s actually mathematically impossible.  This can actually be proved by making a basic challenge; please show the math that gives a political party with 27% of all voter registrations nationally a Congressional majority over a party with 39% of registrations, at least in the 29 states and the District of Columbia that include party registration with their voter registration process.  (21 states don’t) You can’t. Even if Independents broke 2-to-1 for Republicans, the parties would be dead even, at best.

Though I could end the argument there, the math itself highlights other problems, especially one constant theme I’ve been highlighting on this blog for years.  Some liberals seem to want to believe that every problem is a conspiracy, and that it’s someone else’s fault, when the problem rests squarely on our shoulders.  The problem isn’t a grand conspiracy, but a failure to play politics in a meaningful, intelligent way.

The concept of gerrymandering is about a legislature drawing Congressional district boundaries so as to favor one party over another. The practice is as old as (small r) republican politics. There have been laws against it forever, but it’s very easy to skirt the law just enough to make it look less than obvious, so it’s still quite common. This is one case in which “both parties” actually do engage in it. But in most cases, gerrymandering is used to consolidate power for a few select individuals. It’s possible that gerrymandering could be used to give a party a majority in the few states where party affiliations/leanings are close to 50-50. But it is simply not possible to take a state that leans 55-45 toward one party, and swing a majority of seats to the other party through gerrymandering. In order to strengthen one district, you would necessarily have to weaken another.

Let’s have some fun with math, shall we? Look at a couple articles that supposedly make their case for gerrymandering, and put their assumptions into a context that bears some semblance to reality.

First up is an article that has been referred to me a couple of times, from Real Clear Politics, entitled, “In Pennsylvania, the Gerrymander of the Decade?” Note the date. It’s actually from late 2011. The question mark is actually quite appropriate. The article makes a lot of assumptions, not the least of which is the following:

Republicans in Pennsylvania, however, took a state that is two or three points more Democratic than the country as a whole, and created 12 districts (out of 18) that are more Republican than the country as a whole. They did so by creating what can only be called a group of Rorschach-inkblot districts in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The net result is a map that shores up their vulnerable incumbents, and that may well result in a 14-4 Republican edge by the end of the decade.

The author is right, that the “ink blot” map referred to in the article was a joke. But it was also rejected by a court and sent back to the legislature to be rewritten. But look closely at the sophistry in the language above. It “took a state that is two or three points more Democratic than the country as a whole, and created 12 districts (out of 18) that are more Republican than the country as a whole.” The “country as a whole” is around 31% Republican (again, in those 29 states. Based on numerous polls, it’s actually about 27% Republican). Therefore, this guy is claiming that creating districts that are 34% Republican is somehow giving the GOP – what, exactly? A majority? That’s the only thing that matters in politics, and it’s not possible to gerrymander 31% into a majority representation.

The chart in this article is also suspect, because he uses actual votes cast for Obama in 2008 as a guideline. This is a faulty metric, since it assumes no variation in turnout from one election to another, and no change in demogaphics, either. It also assumes that no one would ever vote a split ticket, which is an absurd assumption.

The second article is from the Daily Kos, entitled, “Analysis of Gerrymandering in PA, OH & VA.” (Perhaps ironically, the URL shows the original title may have been “the absurdity of gerrymandering.”)

The overwhelming lack of logic in this piece is stunning.  It starts with:

The House of Representatives is supposed to be the people’s house. But gerrymandering has produced a highly non-representative body.

A preliminary analysis of voting for the 2012 U.S. House of Representatives has found that more Americans voted for Democrats than Republicans. Nonetheless, Republicans will hold about 10% more seats in the House of Representatives.

In practice, this is what it gerrymandering looks like for the 2012 election.

This broad statement is based on a rather specious choice of data from three states. The three charts show vote totals in the three states, with no further explanation, except to make some implications that are, at best, non sequiturs.  Here’s the one for Pennsylvania:


The implication of this chart is that, somehow, Democrats winning the statewide combined vote points to gerrymandering as a root cause. The assumption is that, because Democrats won five seats and lost 12, even though they got more votes statewide, gerrymandering was the cause. But the numbers actually point to another problem.

The key numbers you have to know to determine any root cause for the loss of House seats in Pennsylvania are not contained in the above chart at all. They come from the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, and they can be found here.  In the state of Pennsylvania, there are about 4.2 million registered Democrats, and 3.1 million registered Republicans. Now, look at the “total” line above.  Democrats have 1.1 million more registrations, but tallied only 75,000 more votes in the election. Still think the problem is gerrymandering?

If so, look at it another way. In the state of Pennsylvania, there are 18 districts. Each district in the House of Representatives has about 800,000 people, give or take a small percentage. If 444,000 of those are registered voters (there are roughly 8 million registered voters in 18 districts in Pennsylvania), then you would need 244,000 voters (55%) to be Republican in each district to have a significant chance of winning each of those districts every time.  With 3.1 million registered Republicans, the maximum number of districts you could possibly eke out would be 12. Again, that’s with 244,000 votes.  Look at the chart above again. Even with 83.9% of registered Republicans showing up at the polls, no Republican vote total in any district even comes close to that number.

That 83.9% number is the problem. Instead of  complaining about gerrymandering, we need to tackle the real problem, which is  TURNOUT.  The Democratic turnout was 64.2%, which is not bad compared to the numbers nationally, but it’s still far lower than  the Republican turnout inside Pennsylvania. THAT is the problem we need to solve.

Keep in mind, the chart above makes a lot of assumptions. It assumes that all Democrats voted for Democrats and all Republicans voted Republican. It also assumes that all of the Democratic candidates in each state were good ones. Consider that, as of 2008, Pennsylvania had 12 Democrats and 7 Republicans, and in 2010, that number flipped to 7 Democrats and 12 Republicans. And both of those elections were before redistricting.  After redistricting, and all of this alleged grrymandering, the tally is 5 Democrats and 13 Republicans. A gain of one seat isn’t very good gerrymandering, now, is it?

The fact of the matter is, this was the first post-Citizens United election, and no one knew what to expect from the flood of money pouring into the system this year.  The DNC had to flood the presidential race with money and support, and they had to do the same with Senate races, since Democrats were at a huge disadvantage there, as well. They simply didn’t have enough resources to mount a 50-state fight in the House. That kept Democratic numbers a bit low, and prevented a comprehensive campaign from being fought at that level.

Another note; I’m concentrating on Pennsylvania because Virginia and Ohio don’t include party registration as part of its voter registration process, which makes the same sort of analysis as above kind of impossible. But think about it; it also makes gerrymandering difficult, if not impossible. It also makes any claims of “gerrymandering” as specious, since there is little analysis that can be done without hard numbers.

Oh, but I left out the piece de resistance; the 2014 election will be the first one in Pennsylvania using boundaries written after the 2010 census and approved by the courts. All of the numbers in all of the charts above use numbers from districts drawn in 2001.


I have been saying for years that the problem progressives have is that a large subset of us seem intent on ignoring the single most important aspect of politics, which is getting the most votes. We have the numbers to overwhelm the competition, and overcome any cheating they might try. Ironically, all this talk about gerrymandering is probably costing us more votes than any form of gerrymandering ever could. The main strategy of the GOP is to depress turnout, and all of these conspiracies about stolen votes and cheating make people want to stay home. We have to strt being positive, and making them want to turn out.

Keep the eyes on the prize. We have to win elections, and that means making people want to vote. Stop making people think their vote won’t count; that’s what discourages them, and makes them stay home.  We can’t afford to let them stay home anymore.

About Milt Shook

A writer with more than 45 years in the political game (and let's face it, it is a game). I am a liberal because facts have a liberal bias, and I really like facts. If you like facts, you'll like this blog. If not, you'll have a hard time.

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