Redistricting and Race
While Republicans will likely take over some key governorships and state legislature after November's midterms, America's changing demographics will limit their ability to gerrymander safe districts.
Dylan Loewe argues that Democrats should stop worrying about Republicans re-drawing Congressional districts because demographic changes make it harder.
Over the last ten years, 80 percent of the population growth in this country has come from minorities, overwhelmingly in metropolitan areas. When states like Texas are awarded new congressional districts (they are expected to get four this cycle), those districts will have to be drawn in the same metropolitan areas where such high minority population growth is occurring. Barack Obama won 80 percent of the minority vote. He won every major city in Texas except Fort Worth. This means that these new districts are going to be drawn in areas that are going to be highly populated with Democrats, ones that are almost certainly going to send Democrats to Congress. This, of course, will play out beyond Texas. In fact, of the 10 new districts expected to be allocated, there is reason to believe that at least 8 of them will end up in Democratic hands.
I don’t mean to understate the power of gerrymandering. But even gerrymandering can’t solve this problem for the Republican Party. In the middle of last decade, when Tom Delay and state Republican leaders redrew the Texas state map in a way that removed half a dozen Democratic seats, they didn’t touch the minority districts already in place. Why? Because they were concerned that doing so would invoke the Voting Rights Act and send the newly drawn map to the courts, where it would likely be redrawn by judges. (If that happened in 2011, Democrats could gain as many as 10 seats in Texas.) During the 2011 redistricting, it won’t just be the already existing minority districts that Republicans will have to avoid. It will be the new ones too. With the vast majority of the population growth coming from minorities, the vast majority of the new districts are likely to require minority representation. And for the first time since the Voting Rights Act was passed, the Attorney General in charge of overseeing the process will have been appointed by a Democratic president.
It’s worth noting that in addition to having some states gain seats, others, like Ohio and Michigan, are expected to lose seats. But even if taken to the extreme–even if Republicans are able to ensure, in each case, that a Democratic seat gets erased, that still won’t do as much for the Republican Party as they think. Such a district is likely to be erased in predominantly white, rural areas, where population has declined over the last decade. That means that the Democratic districts that will be erased are more likely to be moderate ones, the kinds that Blue Dogs represent.
But these disappearing districts are being replaced in parts of the country where population growth is high and minority-driven. That creates a surprisingly beneficial system for Democrats in which we replace a Blue Dog seat in Michigan with a progressive, minority-represented seat in Arizona. By the time redistricting is over, not only will Democrats have secured for themselves a far more favorable map, they will have also gone through a process that will unify their caucus, increasing the number of seats where progressives can win, in exchange for decreasing the number of seats where Blue Dogs can win.
It’s a one-two punch for Democrats, and a reason to be optimistic. Republicans can keep beating their redistricting drum. They can keep making the argument that they will once again wield the pen in their favor during redistricting. But, as is so often the case with Republicans, they are wrong, and are peddling nothing more than a myth.
Ruy Teixeira has made a pretty good living for the last decade projecting an emerging Democratic Party majority based on the fact that immigration and divergent birth rates will overwhelm the white voter base from which the GOP draws most of its support. We saw its effects in the 2008 presidential election, where once solid Red States North Carolina and Virginia voted for Obama. (Of course, demographic shifts weren’t the only factor. Indeed, Obama won Indiana, which remains 88% white and hadn’t voted Democrat in my lifetime.)
In the short term, the diminishing white population would seem to be both a boon to Democrats and fuel for the trend towards increased polarization. One of the things driving the Tea Party movement and other more radicalized elements of the conservative base is a sense that their culture is under siege. And that, more than concerns about the rule of law or competition for low wage jobs, is what’s animating the most energized opposition to illegal immigration.
In the longer term, the political science literature tells us that the Republican Party will adapt to the changing demographic realities and nullify the Democratic advantage. There’s no inherent reason, after all, that blacks and Hispanics have to vote Democrat. Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that both groups are better fits with the Christian conservative wing that dominates the GOP than the secularist wing that dominates the Democratic Party. Presumably, that will happen on the policy front at some point. Republicans would be foolish, indeed, to keep banging the “wall off the border” drum once catering to whites stops being enough to win elections. But it takes a long time to change voting patterns. Blacks were solid Republicans for decades after the Civil War but have been solid Democrats since the New Deal. That those who imposed and fought to the bitter end for Jim Crow were Democrats didn’t seem to matter, mostly because the Solid South was a one-party region. And the Dixiecrats eventually found a home in the GOP.
The bottom line is that the GOP will soon be a fringe party, unable to win national elections or move beyond rump status in Congress, unless it finds a way to broaden its appeal to non-white voters. And recent trends have them moving in the opposite direction, doubling down on appealing to the baser instincts of disaffected rural whites.