Before the 2022 election, many expected Republicans to pick up two dozen or more seats in the House given how the party not in the White House has performed in previous midterms. Yet in the end, Republicans won only an incredibly close five-seat majority. Had a few thousand votes in highly competitive districts gone a different way, Democrats would be in the majority.
But if the House was surprisingly competitive in 2022, it wasn’t because congressional maps overall were competitive. Rather, quite the opposite. Here are three takeaways about who drew competitive maps and who won.
As in 2018 and 2020, very few congressional races were competitive in the 2022 general election.
The House may have been in play in 2022, but the contest really came down to the 30 House seats that were decided by 4 percentage points or less.
By contrast, for most Americans, the 2022 midterms were a decidedly boring affair. Nearly three-quarters of House districts were not just uncompetitive but highly so — often by design — with the victor winning 15 or more percentage points. For voters living there, it was the winning party’s primary that decided their representative, not the general election.
Commissions and courts drew the overwhelming bulk of competitive districts.
While commissions and courts drew only about half of all House seats, they drew almost three-quarters of the 30 seats decided by 4 or fewer percentage points and two-thirds of the seats decided by 8 or fewer points.
By contrast, Democratic map drawers drew only 6 of the 30 most competitive seats, while Republican map drawers drew only 2.
Republican maps were especially uncompetitive. Republican legislatures drew 177 districts — far more than any other map drawer, and GOP congressional candidates won in more than three-quarters of them. Only 1 percent of their maps’ districts were highly competitive, and only 4 percent were decided by 8 or fewer points. Republican legislatures also drew more super-safe districts: More than 8 in 10 Republican-drawn seats saw the Republican candidate win by 15 points or more in 2022 — giving Republicans a major foothold in the battle for a House majority. This foothold was reinforced by court decisions putting on hold the redrawing of racially discriminatory maps in Alabama, Georgia, and Louisiana until after the midterms.
Some regions had far more competitive elections than others.
2022 also saw notable regional differences in competition.
The seat-rich South was by far the country’s least competitive region, with a mere 1 percent of the South’s 155 seats decided by 4 or fewer points and only 5 percent decided by 8 or fewer points.
By contrast, in the Northeast, 12 percent of districts were decided by 4 or fewer points and nearly 1 in 5 by 8 or fewer points. The Mountain states were the country’s most competitive region, with 24 percent of districts decided by 4 or fewer points and 30 percent by 8 or fewer points.
The regional variations in competition can be explained at least in part by who drew the maps. The large percentage of competitive seats in the Mountain states was driven primarily by highly competitive new maps drawn by independent commissions in Arizona and Colorado, while in the South, the few districts that were competitive in 2022 were overwhelmingly on court-drawn maps in North Carolina and Virginia. In Southern states where partisan lawmakers drew maps, there was almost no actual two-party competition in the general election.
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Competition between the two major parties, of course, is not the only way to measure a map’s fairness. Legislators may draw a map that includes several competitive districts but is nonetheless unrepresentative of the state’s partisan makeup, or one that discriminates against communities of color. And in some places, competition isn’t possible given the makeup of the electorate. Yet competition remains an important measure of a map’s fairness because competitive elections force candidates to engage with constituents.
Viewed nationally in 2022, there was little competition in most places, especially in states where partisan lawmakers drew maps and particularly in Republican-controlled ones. But maps drawn by commissions and courts had just enough competition, despite maps drawn to favor one party or the other, to keep the House in play and produce one of the tightest midterm outcomes in American history.
However, a close race for control of the House in 2022 is cold comfort for the future. Congressional maps in states like North Carolina and Ohio — and possibly others — may be redrawn by legislatures to be even more skewed and, in the process, further reduce the number of competitive seats. If control of the House was a jump ball in 2022, it may not be in 2024.