Friday, January 25, 2013

Gerrymandering the Electoral College: Republicans Risk Much

Gerrymandering the Electoral College

There's a (bit more than a) rumor going about that the GOP is trying to rig the electoral college by assigning electoral votes based on congressional districts. It's serious enough that MSNBC did a story on it and Think Progress is up in arms about it

There is currently such a proposal being considered in Pennsylvania, and the initial thoughts about the severity of PA's gerrymandering are alarming; PA's 20 electoral college votes, if broken down in the 2012 election, would have resulted in 7 electoral college votes for Obama, and 13 for Romney, despite Obama winning the state by a comfortable 5% margin (current proposal giving remaining 2 electoral votes to popular vote winner). 

The problem with the assumption being made here is that if the electoral college had been gerrymandered for 2012, the election results wouldn't have gone the same way, and for one reason alone: resources. 

The 2012 OFA PA campaign was very heavily centered on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Northwest PA for instance, encompassing Erie, Warren, Forest, Crawford, Venango, Claron, and Mercer counties were given less field staff than any one of the counties surrounding Philadelphia, and far less than any of the Philadelphia cross-section regions. For a good majority of the campaign (2011-2012), we only had 3 field staff for all of Northwest PA.

Under the winner-take-all electoral college system that we currently have, this breakdown absolutely makes sense. Obama carried over 85% of the vote in Philadelphia county alone, so it was essential to get as much turnout as possible in Philly and its suburbs to drum up popular vote support. If we had a congressional district break-down, however, our strategy would have been very different, and this is why Republicans would be very short-sighted to pass the gerrymandering bill.

If Republicans make the mistake of gerrymandering the electoral college, Democrats will make them pay by challenging every single one of their congressional districts. As it currently stands, the only truly lopsided victories in the 2012 congressional races were won by Democrats, who were gerrymandered into noncompetitive districts. A closer look at the 2012 congressional results reveals to me that the Pennsylvania Democratic Party actually has a lot of opportunities to make gains in congressional seats.

If Democrats somehow got a 5-7% swing in electoral results in some of the outlier congressional districts that had fewer resources, they would gain 5 more congressional seats, switching the results to 12 electoral votes for Obama, and 8 for Romney. This isn't even considering the fact that Obama outperformed many democratic congressional candidates in their home districts. In Venango County, for instance, Charles Dumas carried only 31.8% of the vote, while Barack Obama had 35.8%. 

Resources were certainly an issue in the 2012 elections for Democratic congressional hopefuls. Broken down in order by congressional district from FEC disclosures:

For the most part, the candidate who spent the most, won, and victories closely represented money spent. The the largest outlier appears to be the 12th congressional district, but it should be noted that Mark Critz spent over $1 million on a contested primary, whereas Keith Rothfus did not have a contested primary. I should also note that this chart represents only the money spent by the candidates themselves: third-party PAC expenditures are not represented.

There are a few districts that I find especially competitive on the face: the 3rd, 7th, 8th, 12th, 15th, and the 16th. With more resources, democrats could put up a larger challenge against Republicans, and possibly gain valuable seats in the house. Should Republicans actually make the mistake of gerrymandering the electoral college, any race within a 15% margin will see a surge of Democratic resources, including ads, ground staffers, and off-season coalition building. Seeing the large amount of resources spent by democrats in completely uncompetitive elections, it's clear that the resources are available for a shift in strategy. If republicans successfully change the rules in multiple states, we'll see a similar story in each of them, resulting in fewer congressional seats for Republicans, and maybe even enough turnover for Republicans to lose the House of Representatives entirely.

If Republicans really want to put these seats up for grabs, they're welcome to do so. Democrats would love the challenge, and they would make the Republican party pay - one way or another.

No comments:

Post a Comment