Skip Navigation

How Did Democrats Flip the House? Fairer Maps

Commissions or courts, not partisan lawmakers, drew over 70 percent of the seats that went from the GOP to Dems Tuesday, a new Brennan Center analysis finds

November 12, 2018

Numer­ous factors explain how Demo­crats decis­ively took back a major­ity in the House of Repres­ent­at­ives last Tues­day. But one deserves partic­u­lar atten­tion: Nearly three in four of the seats Demo­crats flipped were in districts drawn by redis­trict­ing commis­sions or courts. Districts drawn through these fairer processes were far more compet­it­ive than those drawn by legis­latures in states where one party had sole control and could use it to gerry­mander.

We found that commis­sions or courts drew 44 percent of all districts nation­wide, but they drew 72 percent of the districts that Demo­crats flipped or are lead­ing in with votes still being coun­ted. 

By contrast, legis­latures in states where Repub­lic­ans enjoyed unified control drew 42 percent of districts nation­wide, but they drew just 23 percent of the districts Demo­crats flipped or are lead­ing in. (The percent­ages exclude states with only a single district).

Out of the nine Demo­cratic pickups on maps drawn by Repub­lic­ans, none were in North Caro­lina (although elec­tion contro­ver­sies may require another elec­tion in NC-09) and Ohio, and only two were in Michigan — the three states rated by the Bren­nan Center as being the most extremely gerry­mandered.

Delving more deeply into the analysis, the Bren­nan Center groups the 435 House seats into seven differ­ent categor­ies based on control of the map-draw­ing process. Our pre-elec­tion analysis revealed that courts, commis­sions, and split-control govern­ments were nearly four times more likely to draw super-compet­it­ive districts than lawmakers who had one-party control of state govern­ment. 

Seats in Virginia and Flor­ida, where congres­sional maps have been modi­fied by courts, were espe­cially pivotal Tues­day. In fact, Demo­crats did partic­u­larly well nation­wide in states with court-modi­fied maps, flip­ping a whop­ping 16 seats where courts either ordered redraws or stepped in after legis­lat­ive dead­lock. Repub­lic­ans also benefited from the fairer compet­i­tion created by courts, netting their only three pickups of the cycle in states with court-modi­fied maps.

Here’s the full break­down: 

Updated after the elec­tion on Decem­ber 7.

(Image: BCJ/Getty/Shut­ter­stock)