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Gerrymandering

What is it, and how can it affect the 2018 midterms?

Photo by Brett Sayles via Pexels

Gerrymandering is an issue which may certainly affect the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections in the United States, because it can provide a significant advantage to both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The term “gerrymandering” describes the act of manipulating the physical boundaries of a congressional district in order to give an advantage to a certain political party in that area. For example, if there were 50 people in a state, 10 of which are Democrats who all lived near each other, and 40 of which are Republicans who also lived near each other, the "fairest" way to divide the area into congressional districts would be to divide it into five congressional districts, one seat would go to the Democrats, and four would go to the Republicans. Gerrymandering would be the act of rearranging these districts in a way which benefits the party in power at that time (i.e. Moving the lines of the congressional districts in a way in which would see a minority of Democrats and a majority of Republicans in each district, giving the Republicans more seats without necessarily gaining more votes). This phenomenon has been happening for quite some time in the United States, however, the situation has only worsened with “increasingly sophisticated data and map-drawing techniques,” according to a report published on the Brennan Center for Justice.

Additionally, gerrymandering in the 2018 midterms will have a significant effect on the outcome of the election. The gerrymandering taking place in the past decade has generally been favourable to Republicans, and because of this, the Democrats will be fighting an uphill battle when trying to gain seats in the 2018 midterms.

“Because of maps designed to favour Republicans, Democrats would need to win by a nearly unprecedented nationwide margin in 2018 to gain control of the House of Representatives. To attain a bare majority, Democrats would likely have to win the national popular vote by nearly 11 points.”

Due to gerrymandering, the Democrats are facing near-impossible odds at gaining control of the House of Representatives. An example of how gerrymandering may affect the outcome of the 2018 midterm elections can be seen in the state of Pennsylvania. Since the Republican party had control of both the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the governor’s office, they held all the power when it came to the redistricting of congressional districts in 2010. In the subsequent election for the House, the Republicans were left with the majority of seats, despite Democrats having the popular vote. Gerrymandering can also be based on race, under the presumption that minorities are more likely to vote for a Democrat than a Republican. To achieve this, Republicans would split districts in a way that would split up large minority populations, and ‘dilute’ them by putting them in districts with white republican voters. 

“(…) often joining urban Latino neighbourhoods with larger suburban communities where white voters were an overwhelming majority with distinct, if not conflicting, political interests.”

The issue of gerrymandering in the American political system is one which carries large consequences, and can have an important, lasting effect on the political landscape in the United States. Gerrymandering is sure to have a noticeable effect on the 2018 midterm elections, putting the Democrats at a distinct disadvantage to the Republicans, simply by re-drawing congressional district maps.

Source: Laura Royden, Michael Li, and Yurij Rudensky, “Extreme Gerrymandering and the 2018 Midterms,” Brennan Center for Justice, March 23, 2018.

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