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Redistricting and Congressional Control Following the 2012 Election

On Election Day, Republicans maintained control of the House of Representatives. While two Congressional races remain undecided as of November 20, it appears that Democrats may have picked up about eight seats during the 2012 election, falling well short of the 25 seats Democrats needed to take back control of the House.

  • Sundeep Iyer
Published: November 29, 2012

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On Elec­tion Day, Repub­lic­ans main­tained control of the House of Repres­ent­at­ives. While two Congres­sional races remain unde­cided as of Novem­ber 20, it appears that Demo­crats may have picked up about eight seats during the 2012 elec­tion,[1] fall­ing well short of the 25 seats Demo­crats needed to take back control of the House.

Before the elec­tion, the Bren­nan Center estim­ated that redis­trict­ing would allow Repub­lic­ans to main­tain long-term control of 11 more seats in the House than they would have under the previ­ous district lines.[2] Now that the elec­tion is complete, it is worth re-examin­ing the influ­ence of redis­trict­ing on the results of the 2012 elec­tion. This brief assesses how the new district lines affected the partisan balance of power in the House. The report is the prologue to more extens­ive analyses, which will exam­ine other aspects of redis­trict­ing, includ­ing the fair­ness of the process and its effect on minor­ity repres­ent­a­tion, among others.

Based on our initial analysis of the 2012 elec­tion, several import­ant trends emerge:

  • Redis­trict­ing may have changed which party won the elec­tion in at least 26 House districts. Because of redis­trict­ing, it is likely that the GOP won about six more seats over­all in 2012 than they would have under the old district lines.
  • Where Repub­lic­ans controlled redis­trict­ing, the GOP likely won 11 more seats than they would have under the old district lines, includ­ing five seats previ­ously held by Demo­crats. Demo­crats also used redis­trict­ing to their advant­age, but Repub­lic­ans redrew the lines for four times as many districts as Demo­crats.
  • Repub­lican gains during redis­trict­ing were largely because vulner­able Repub­lican incum­bents received safer districts. Redis­trict­ing safe­guarded at least eight Repub­lican incum­bents who would have other­wise lost re-elec­tion in 2012. Six of these eight were fresh­men elec­ted in 2010.
  • Of the 79 sitting members of Congress who will depart before the start of the 113th Congress, over one-half — about 40 — will not be coming back partly because of redis­trict­ing. Many of the depart­ing members of Congress did not run for re-elec­tion or lost in a primary elec­tion, but of the 26 incum­bents who lost on Elec­tion Day, 19 of those casu­al­ties were redis­trict­ing-related.

The 2012 elec­tion data in this report are based on elec­tion returns repor­ted by The New York Times, current as of Novem­ber 17.[3] These elec­tion returns are not certi­fied and are there­fore subject to change. North Caro­lin­a’s 7th district remains unde­cided. The Demo­cratic candid­ate is currently lead­ing and we include this district in our analysis, provi­sion­ally count­ing it as a Demo­cratic victory. A second district, Louisi­ana’s 3rd, will feature a run-off elec­tion in Decem­ber; both candid­ates in the run-off are Repub­lic­ans, so the seat is guar­an­teed to stay in Repub­lican hands.[4]

I. Where Redis­trict­ing May Have Changed Which Party Won The Elec­tion

This section assesses whether the change in the partisan compos­i­tion of each district follow­ing redis­trict­ing may have impacted which party won the district in 2012. For example, consider a district where the Demo­cratic candid­ate in 2012 won with 52 percent of the vote, while the Repub­lican candid­ate received 48 percent. If the territ­ory in the newly drawn district histor­ic­ally gave Repub­lican candid­ates about six percent less of the vote than the old district, it is likely that the Repub­lican candid­ate would have won under the old district lines. There­fore, our analysis would estim­ate that redis­trict­ing likely changed which party won the elec­tion in 2012 from Repub­lican to Demo­cratic.

Histor­ical voting patterns in the old district and the new are meas­ured using the data and meth­ods described in Appendix A of Redis­trict­ing and Congres­sional Control: A First Look.[5] The analysis is conser­vat­ive in identi­fy­ing districts where redis­trict­ing may have changed the elec­tion outcome. In some districts, redis­trict­ing made the 2012 elec­tion uncom­pet­it­ive. As such, our analysis suggests that the elec­tion result would not have been any differ­ent under the old district lines, even though a compet­it­ive elec­tion in the old district may have led to a differ­ent result.

Of course, it is not easy to determ­ine with certainty what the outcome of the 2012 elec­tion would have been under the old district lines. Without having the candid­ates on the ballot in the old district as well as the new district, there is no way to know precisely what percent­age of the vote each candid­ate would have received this elec­tion in the old district. Still, the analysis below provides a reas­on­able approx­im­a­tion of where redis­trict­ing may have changed which party won the elec­tion in 2012.

Based on our analysis, there are at least 26 districts where redis­trict­ing may have changed which party won the 2012 elec­tion:

  • Nine seats likely flipped from Repub­lican to Demo­cratic control because of redis­trict­ing:
    • AZ-01: Ann Kirk­patrick (D) defeated Jonathan Paton (R). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Paul Gosar (R).
    • CA-07: Ami Bera (D) defeated Rep. Dan Lungren (R).
    • CA-26: Julia Brown­ley (D) defeated Tony Strick­land (R). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R).
    • CA-52: Scott Peters (D) defeated Rep. Brian Bilbray (R).
    • FL-22: Lois Frankel (D) defeated Adam Hasner (R). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Allen West (R).
    • IL-08: Tammy Duck­worth (D) defeated Rep. Joe Walsh (R).
    • IL-10: Brad Schneider (D) defeated Rep. Robert Dold (R).
    • IL-17: Cheri Bustos (D) defeated Rep. Bobby Schilling (R).
    • MD-06: John Delaney (D) defeated Rep. Roscoe Bart­lett (R).
  • Eight seats likely flipped from Demo­cratic to Repub­lican control because of redis­trict­ing:
    • IN-02: Jackie Walor­ski (R) defeated Brendan Mullen (D). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Joe Donnelly (D).
    • IA-03: Rep. Tom Latham (R) defeated Rep. Leonard Boswell (D).
    • KY-06: Andy Barr (R) defeated Rep. Ben Chand­ler (D).
    • NY-27: Chris Collins (R) defeated Rep. Kathy Hochul (D).
    • PA-12: Keith Roth­fus (R) defeated Rep. Mark Critz (D).
    • NC-08: Richard Hudson (R) defeated Rep. Larry Kissell (D).
    • NC-11: Mark Mead­ows (R) defeated Hayden Rogers (D). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Heath Shuler (D).
    • NC-13: George Hold­ing (R) defeated Charles Malone (D). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Brad Miller (D).
  • Repub­lic­ans kept control of eight seats they would likely have lost without redis­trict­ing:
    • FL-10: Rep. Daniel Webster (R) defeated Val Demings (D).
    • MI-01: Rep. Dan Benishek (R) defeated Gary McDow­ell (D).
    • MI-11: Kerry Bentivolio (R) defeated Syed Taj (D). This seat was formerly held by Rep. Thad McCot­ter (R).
    • MN-06: Rep. Michelle Bach­mann (R) defeated Jim Graves (D).
    • NC-02: Rep. Renee Ellmers (R) defeated Steve Wilkins (D).
    • OH-06: Rep. Bill John­son (R) defeated Charlie Wilson (D).
    • PA-11: Rep. Lou Barletta (R) defeated Gene Stilp (D).
    • TX-27: Rep. Blake Farenthold (R) defeated Rose Harrison (D).
  • Demo­crats kept control of one seat they would likely have lost without redis­trict­ing:
    • AZ-02: Rep. Ron Barber (D) defeated Martha McSally (R).  

The list above does not include incum­bents like Judy Biggert (IL-08), Nan Hayworth (NY-18), and Ann Marie Buerkle (NY-24), who lost, in part, because of unfa­vor­able changes to their districts, but who may have also likely lost in their old districts, based on their respect­ive margins of defeat in 2012.[6] This list also does not include the four incum­bent Demo­crats in Cali­for­nia who lost re-elec­tion to a Demo­cratic oppon­ent due to redis­trict­ing and to the state’s new top-two primary elec­tion system.

Based just on the seats that flipped party control, Demo­crats likely ended up gain­ing one net seat in the House because of redis­trict­ing. Before the elec­tion, the Bren­nan Center had accur­ately estim­ated that Demo­crats would gain one seat in the House by that meas­ure.

But where Repub­lic­ans really took advant­age of redis­trict­ing was in shor­ing up some of their most vulner­able members. Account­ing for incum­bents who were protec­ted by redis­trict­ing, we estim­ate that Repub­lic­ans likely won six more seats over­all in the 2012 elec­tion than they would have won under the old district lines. Before the elec­tion, the Bren­nan Center estim­ated that Repub­lic­ans would main­tain long-term control of 11 more districts than they would have under the old district lines. Redis­trict­ing helped Repub­lic­ans slightly less in 2012 than our longer-term estim­ate would suggest. In part, this is because Demo­cratic incum­bents like John Barrow (GA-12), Mike McIntyre (NC-07), and Jim Math­eson (UT-04) won re-elec­tion despite unfa­vor­able changes to their districts during redis­trict­ing.

Yet the estim­ated six seat gain for Repub­lic­ans also does not include districts where redis­trict­ing made re-elec­tion less compet­it­ive for the incum­bent, allow­ing the incum­bent to win comfort­ably even though a more compet­it­ive contest in the old district might have yiel­ded a differ­ent result. For example, fresh­man Repub­lican Reps. Cory Gard­ner (CO-04), Randy Hult­gren (IL-14), Todd Young (IN-09), Steve Chabot (OH-01), and Patrick Meehan (PA-07) all received signi­fic­antly safer districts. Accord­ing to The Cook Polit­ical Report, their contests were all considered compet­it­ive during the Repub­lican wave in 2010, yet none of their contests were considered compet­it­ive in 2012.[7] But even though the Demo­cratic candid­ates were not compet­it­ive in these districts, the 2012 elec­tion results suggest that the Demo­crat in each race would have come within five points of defeat­ing the incum­bent under the old district lines.

II. The Outcomes of Partisan Redis­trict­ing

Six differ­ent types of author­it­ies controlled the redis­trict­ing process: Repub­lican legis­lature and governor; Demo­cratic legis­lature and governor; an inde­pend­ent commis­sion; a politi­cian commis­sion; a state or federal court; or a state legis­lature and governor with split control between Repub­lic­ans and Demo­crats.[8] This section focuses on the outcomes of Repub­lican-controlled and Demo­cratic-controlled redis­trict­ing. The Bren­nan Center will exam­ine the results of redis­trict­ing for the other four actors in greater detail in our forth­com­ing analysis in the spring.

Repub­lican legis­lat­ors and governors drew district lines for 173 of the 435 seats in Congress.[9] Where Repub­lican legis­lat­ors controlled redis­trict­ing, Repub­lic­ans likely won 11 more seats than they would have under the old district lines. Five of these 11 were seats that flipped party control due to redis­trict­ing; six were Repub­lican seats saved by redis­trict­ing. In states where Repub­lic­ans controlled redis­trict­ing, Repub­lican candid­ates for the House won roughly 53 percent of the vote and 72 percent of the seats. But even under the old district lines, that dispar­ity would have persisted, as Repub­lic­ans still would have likely won about 65 percent of the seats.

Demo­cratic legis­lat­ors and governors redis­tric­ted 44 seats, just one-quarter the number of seats as Repub­lic­ans.[10] But they still used redis­trict­ing to their advant­age. Where they controlled redis­trict­ing, Demo­crats won three more seats than they would have under the old district lines, and Repub­lic­ans lost five more seats. In the six states where Demo­crats controlled redis­trict­ing, Demo­cratic candid­ates for the House won about 56 percent of the vote and 71 percent of the seats. However, that dispar­ity would have persisted even before redis­trict­ing, as Demo­crats would have likely won 61 percent of the seats under the old district lines.

III. Congres­sional Turnover and Redis­trict­ing

Follow­ing the elec­tion, 79 sitting incum­bents will depart the House. (There will be 84 fresh­men in the 113th Congress; five fresh­men were elec­ted to vacant seats.) About 40 of the 79 depart­ing incum­bents may not be coming back at least partly because of redis­trict­ing:

  • 39 incum­bents did not run for re-elec­tion to the House, and at least 10 of those depar­tures may have had some­thing to do with redis­trict­ing. Five saw their districts splintered or elim­in­ated during redis­trict­ing: Reps. Steve Austria (R-OH), David Dreier (R-CA), Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Lynn Wool­sey (D-CA), and Bob Turner (R-NY). Five others saw their district signi­fic­antly altered to their disad­vant­age during redis­trict­ing: Reps. Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Elton Gallegly (R-CA), Tim John­son (R-IL), Brad Miller (D-NC), and Heath Shuler (D-NC).
  • 13 incum­bents lost in primary elec­tions, and 10 of them lost at least partly because of redis­trict­ing. Eight incum­bents were paired with an incum­bent from their own party during redis­trict­ing and lost the primary elec­tion: Reps. Ben Quayle (R-AZ), Steve Roth­man (D-NJ), Don Manzullo (R-IL), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Hansen Clarke (D-MI), Russ Carna­han (D-MO), Jason Altmire (D-PA), and Sandy Adams (R-FL). Mean­while, Rep. Tim Holden (D-PA) and Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) became more vulner­able to primary chal­lenges when they were drawn into new territ­ory during redis­trict­ing.
  • 26 incum­bents lost on Elec­tion Day, and 19 were signi­fic­antly weakened by redis­trict­ing. Fifteen of these incum­bents lost to an oppon­ent from the oppos­ing party and were more likely to win re-elec­tion in their old district: Reps. Dan Lungren (R-CA), Brian Bilbray (R-CA), Leonard Boswell (D-IA), Joe Walsh (R-IL), Robert Dold (R-IL), Bobby Schilling (R-IL), Judy Biggert (R-IL), Ben Chand­ler (D-KY), Roscoe Bart­lett (R-MD), Larry Kissell (D-NC), Nan Hayworth (R-NY), Ann Marie Buerkle (R-NY), Kathy Hochul (D-NY), Betty Sutton (D-OH), and Mark Critz (D-PA). In Cali­for­nia, four Demo­cratic members lost in the general elec­tion to a Demo­cratic oppon­ent, thanks both to redis­trict­ing and the state’s new top-two primary system: Reps. Howard Berman, Joe Baca, Laura Richard­son, and Pete Stark.
  • In Decem­ber, one final incum­bent will lose because of redis­trict­ing. In Louisi­ana, two incum­bents — Reps. Charles Bous­tany (R) and Jeff Landry (R) — will face each other in a run-off elec­tion. The two were paired together during redis­trict­ing.

Notably, of the 40 members whose depar­ture may have been at least partly the result of redis­trict­ing, 20 were Demo­crats and 20 were Repub­lic­ans.                     


[1] One unde­cided race is North Caro­lin­a’s 7th district. Demo­crats lead in this race; we provi­sion­ally count it as a Demo­cratic victory. A second race, in Louisi­ana’s 3rd district, will feature a run-off in Decem­ber between two Repub­lican candid­ates in Decem­ber. House Map, The New York Times (Nov. 17, 2012), http://elec­tions.nytimes.com/2012/results/house.

As of Novem­ber 20, The New York Times results map did not reflect the fact that the Repub­lican candid­ate in Flor­id­a’s 18th district has conceded to the Demo­cratic candid­ate. Sean Sulli­van, Flor­ida Rep. Allen West Concedes, The Fix Blog (Nov. 20, 2012, 7:35 AM), http://www.wash­ing­ton­post.com/blogs/the-fix/wp/2012/11/20/flor­ida-rep-allen-west-concedes/.

[2] Sundeep Iyer & Keesha Gaskins, Redis­trict­ing and Congres­sional Control: A First Look, Bren­nan Center for Justice, Oct. 25, 2012, http://www.bren­nan­cen­ter.org/content/resource/redis­trict­ing_and_congres­sional_control_a_first_look/.

[3] House Map, supra note 1.

[4] See supra note 1.

[5] See supra note 2.

[6] Biggert lost by 16.2 percent; Buerkle lost by 4.6 percent; Hayworth lost by 3.4 percent. House Map, supra note 1. All of these margins are larger than the partisan shifts in their districts due to redis­trict­ing.

[7] 2012 House Race Ratings for Novem­ber 5, 2012, The Cook Polit­ical Report (Nov. 5, 2012), http://cook­polit­ical.com/house/charts/race-ratings/5105; 2010 Compet­it­ive House Race Chart, The Cook Polit­ical Report (Nov. 1, 2010), http://cook­polit­ical.com/archive/chart/house/race-ratings/2010–11–01_12–12–36.

[8] See Appendix B, Redis­trict­ing and Congres­sional Control, supra note 2.

[9] See Appendix B, Redis­trict­ing and Congres­sional Control, supra note 2.

[10] See Appendix B, Redis­trict­ing and Congres­sional Control, supra note 2.