Analyzing the Impact of Reapportionment in the 2022 Mid-Term Elections
Elections & Politics Policy Brief #39 | By: Ian Milden | October 12, 2022
Header photo taken from: Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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Photo taken from: Ally Finn / National Conference of State Legislatures, All About Redistricting
Control of the U.S. House is up for grabs in the 2022 mid-term elections. Democrats currently have 220 seats and require 218 seats to retain a majority (there are three vacant seats). This brief will examine the impact of reapportionment on the U.S. House races in 2022. It will also discuss some strategies that Democrats can use to mitigate or work around the challenges created by redistricting.
Every ten years, U.S. House seats are reapportioned based on the latest census data. States are required to draw new district lines based on the number of seats they have been allocated and population changes within the state. Most new district lines are drawn by state legislatures, which have limited incentives to draw them impartially.
The 2020 census reapportionment gave additional seats to Texas, North Carolina, Florida, Montana, Colorado, and Oregon. Texas gained two seats in reapportionment, while the other states gained one seat. Republicans controlled the redistricting process in Texas, Florida, Montana, and North Carolina. North Carolina does not give the governor a role in the redistricting process. Colorado has an independent redistricting commission.
Those seats that came from California, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, and West Virginia. California and Michigan have an Independent Redistricting Commission, so Democrats did not control the process in those states. New York’s redistricting was done at the direction of the state judicial system due to lawsuits over the initial maps. Illinois’ redistricting led to a pair of Democratic incumbents facing each other as well as a pair of Republican incumbents.
Ohio’s redistricting process was controlled by Republicans and they dismembered the district represented by Tim Ryan (D-OH), who is now running for the U.S. Senate.
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The Ohio state Supreme Court ruled that the maps have been illegally gerrymandered to provide partisan benefit to Republicans, but those maps will be used in 2022 because the primaries have already occurred.
The reapportionment is helpful to Republicans because Republicans have control of the redistricting process in key states. The reapportionment might be enough to give Republicans the majority in the House. This does not account for incumbents of both parties who could face a difficult re-election campaign because they are in swing districts. Many of these swing districts are held by Democrats who won difficult races in 2018 and managed to hold on in 2020.
Strategies for Democrats
There are several strategies that Democrats have used successfully to win House seats and several new strategies that they could employ to win seats. Filing lawsuits to force states with gerrymandered maps to redraw them has been a successful strategy for Democrats. Democrats have been more successful when those lawsuits are filed in state courts. Democrats managed to gain some seats in Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida during the middle of the previous decade due to successful lawsuits overturning the original congressional district maps.
Expanding the party’s coalition is what helped Democrats pick up enough House seats in 2018 to win control of the House. The voters who left the Republican Party to vote for Democrats that year tended to be well-educated suburban residents who did not like the direction that Donald Trump was taking the Republican Party in. Using campaign strategies that made these voters comfortable with voting for Democrats was the key to winning these voters and keeping them in the Democratic coalition.
Democrats can also target Republican districts if they run candidates who fit the districts and change their communications strategies to appeal to those constituencies. For example, Democrats have been losing support from Latino voters, which has cost them seats in Florida and Texas. Democrats have also struggled in recent years with rural voters and blue-collar voters, which has cost them seats in states like Iowa.
There are Democrats currently in Congress, such as Senator Jon Tester (D-MT), who won races in rural states. Studying their campaigns can provide Democrats with strategies to win in districts where they have struggled in recent years. There are also a few signs from the special elections that rural voter turnout may be down. If this proves to be the case in the 2022 general elections, then Democrats should develop and test some ideas in the 2024 election cycle to try to win support from these voters.
Finally, Democrats should consider the viability of passing new federal laws governing the redistricting process. States can be required to have an independent redistricting commission if federal law requires it. State legislators and governors may oppose this proposal because it would force them to give up some power and possibly create an unfunded mandate. If there isn’t a path to mandate the creation of Independent Redistricting Commissions at the state level, Democrats should consider other policy alternatives to improve the redistricting process.