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Gerrymandering: Why the 2020 Election Matters Way More Than 2016 Did

Trump's, and the GOP's, loss in 2020 (if it happens) will undo much more than just presidential executive actions. It could undo 40 years of progress by Republicans at every level.

Here’s a reason to go out and vote this November, whether you like our president or not. We probably cannot burn down the GOP on purpose, but certainly we shouldn’t do it out of carelessness. Put simply: Do not underestimate the raw power of holding state legislative control the year after a census.

For 40 years since the Eisenhower era, Democrats had built up a huge lead in controlling Congress, by controlling districts in the states. Much of that came from legal rulings against Jim Crow gerrymandering that gave white voters more electoral power than minorities, but a lot of it was pure power of having Democrat-controlled legislatures.

By the late 70s, Democrats completely controlled well over half of the state legislatures, with Republicans holding a mere 7 or 8 states, with the remainder split. Over the last 40 years, Republicans have clawed that power away and have flipped it to their own advantage. By 2016, Republicans were in control of both chambers in 30 states, while Democrats controlled 12 and seven were split (Nebraska is non-partisan). After the 2016 election, the GOP’s lead had grown to 32 states, with only three split.

Since the 90s, Republicans enjoyed being able to undo the Democrats gerrymandering, and replace it with their own. If Trump loses big, and his negative coattails eviscerate state legislatures for Republicans, watch for a round of gerrymandering, to paraphrase Donald Trump, “like we’ve never seen before in history.”

Just look at the effects of having the power to redraw districts:

Look at how that translates to federal political power:

This is naturally why state parties are vying to flip, or prevent flipping, of states, district by district in 2020.

Trump could be a big factor in the down-ballot races. National surveys of voters from 2006-2018 have shown that presidential approval carries nearly three times as much impact in determining voters’ choices for state legislative candidates as their approval of the legislature itself, said Steven Rogers, a political scientist at Saint Louis University who studies elections with a focus on state legislatures. (emphasis mine)

A giant anti-Trump wave will almost certainly carry state houses with it.

“After the coronavirus and with Biden at the top of the ticket, our map now expands back out to districts that had Democratic DNA, that have voters that thought Trump might turn around the economy in working-class Rust Belt towns across the Midwest,” said Jessica Post, president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee.

After the Democrats’ success (the “blue wave”) in 2018 taking back the House of Representatives, they are now looking to consolidate those gains by flipping as many states as possible. In play: about 20% of districts around the country, according to Larry Sabato’s report at the UVA Center for Politics. This puts North Carolina, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Alaska, Michigan and Pennsylvania into the “competitive” category.

There’s also Maine, Iowa, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Georgia’s GOP hold is relatively safe, but Democrats will not be able to be ignored, especially in the Atlanta suburbs and north Georgia. Just because Republicans have a majority doesn’t guarantee a favorable redistricting result.

The 2020 race will have major aftereffects for years due to redistricting. It is in this respect a more important race than 2016. Sure, President Trump spent four years undoing many of Obama’s executive actions (the ones the courts didn’t block him from undoing). But Trump’s own actions could be undone by the next Democrat in the White House.

Trump’s, and the GOP’s, loss in 2020 (if it happens) will undo much more than just presidential executive actions. It could undo 40 years of progress by Republicans at every level.

Even if you abstain from the presidential election, or (God help your soul) decide to actively cast a ballot for the potted plant Joe Biden, make sure you understand the repercussions of voting against Republicans at the state level. Those wounds cut much deeper than losing the White House. If you want to see the GOP burn down, hand your state over the Democrats, and watch them gerrymander you into caring.


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