Republicans in Stronger Position to Maintain Long-Term Control of House After 2010 Redistricting

October 25, 2012

New York, NY – Gains from the 2010 redistricting cycle may put the GOP in position to keep long-term control of 11 more seats than under previous congressional district lines, according to a new Brennan Center for Justice study. As a result, the existing partisan makeup of Congress is unlikely to change, and Democrats may find it harder to gain the 25 seats needed to take control of the House in 2012.

The GOP achieved this advantage by shoring up many of their most vulnerable incumbents, moving them from districts that historically favored Democrats into districts that, following redistricting, now favor Republicans.

The analysis of the most recent Congressional redistricting cycle found that Democrats and Republicans both used redistricting to their political advantage. However, Republicans have significantly redrawn districts in their favor for the next decade due to party gains at the state level in the 2010 election.

Redistricting and Congressional Control: A First Look focuses on who drew the lines following the 2010 Census — legislatures, commissions, or courts — and how that process could affect electoral competitiveness and the partisan balance of power in Congress in the upcoming election. The preliminary analysis suggests that the type of authority that controlled redistricting may impact the results of the process.

The report finds that during the most recent round of redistricting:

  • Republicans controlled redistricting in 17 states, redrawing 173 of the 435 Congressional districts. Redrawn lines in these states may have put Republicans in position to win nine Congressional seats currently represented by Democrats. Three-quarters of the Congressional seats in states where the GOP controlled redistricting – 130 of 173 – now favor Republicans. 
  • Democrats controlled redistricting for 44 seats in 6 states. Compared to the current partisan makeup of Congress, Democrat-controlled redistricting may have resulted in a potential four seat gain for Democrats and a potential six seat loss for Republicans.
  • Independent Commissions controlled redistricting in five states, redrawing 78 Congressional districts (including 53 in California.) The number of safe seats declined by five where independent commissions controlled redistricting.  
  • State and federal courts controlled the lines for 62 Congressional districts in eight states, resulting in four fewer safe seats.

“Political parties use redistricting to tilt the political terrain to their advantage, not only for the 2012 election, but for all elections in the next decade,” said Sundeep Iyer, co-author of the report and principal quantitative analyst at the Brennan Center.

Keesha Gaskins, co-author and Senior Counsel at the Brennan Center added, “Political gamesmanship during redistricting has long-term policy consequences for voters. Redistricting should be about enhancing the quality of representation for Americans, not manipulating the electoral process for partisan gain.”

The study also examines states that have enacted reforms reducing partisan line drawing. In Florida, for example, Republican state legislators drew new Congressional districts in accordance with the state’s new “Fair Redistricting” amendment. The amendment, approved by a ballot measure, prohibits redrawing districts to favor or hurt an incumbent or political party or to deny minorities equal opportunity to participate in the political process. As a result, new districts designated by the Republican-controlled legislature may have actually increased the opposing party’s political power.

This initial analysis of the most recent Congressional redistricting cycle is a first look at redistricting and its effects on citizen representation. Following the 2012 election, the Brennan Center will examine other aspects of redistricting, including its effect on minority representation and the fairness of the process, among others.

For the latest news on redistricting and the 2012 election, please visit www.brennancenter.org and the Brennan Center’s Election 2012 page.

For more information or to set up an interview, please contact Seth Hoy at seth.hoy@nyu.edu, 646-292-8369.

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