WaPo on Texas redistricting

The Fix makes a few curious statements about the proposed Congressional redistricting map for Texas.

Despite the Lonestar State voting 55 percent for Republicans in the 2008 presidential race, the GOP-controlled legislature’s proposed map features 26 districts that went for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) out of a total of 36 districts, according to a Fix analysis based on data from the Texas Legislative Council. That’s 72 percent of districts that favor Republicans on paper.

The big changes are the four new districts the state gained in the decennial reapportionment process thanks to its rapid population growth. Of the four, three lean Republican while one is solidly Democratic. The other big change is the shifting of Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s (D-Texas) district from a strongly Democratic district to a strongly Republican one.

The new Republican-leaning districts went 53 percent, 57 percent and 58 percent for McCain, while the Democratic district went 38 percent for McCain. Doggett’s district would go from 40 percent McCain to 56 percent.

In effect, Republicans appear to be trying to give themselves a good chance to gain three of the four new seats, leaving Democrats to gain just one.

If The Fix’s math here were correct, that would be a net gain of four Republican seats – three new ones, plus the eradication of Lloyd Doggett. As we know, however, two of the four “new” seats are Democratic – CDs 34 and 35 – so two new R seats plus Doggett’s is what takes them from 23 to 26.

The result is a map in which there are 10 very safe Democratic seats — McCain didn’t take more than 40 percent in any of them — and 26 districts that went at least 52 percent for McCain. The fact that there is no district that went between 40 percent and 52 percent for McCain suggests a carefully crafted gerrymander.

Of those 26 McCain districts, the GOP presidential nominee took less than 60 percent of the vote in 13 of them, which suggests they could be competitive under the right set of cirumstances. But 2008 was a very bad year for the GOP, and McCain’s numbers were on the low end of what a Republican presidential — or congressional — candidate will likely get in any given election cycle.

First, it’s not clear what he’s basing that statement about where McCain’s numbers might fall on the spectrum, other than perhaps a reflexive “Texas is a red state” intuition. Second, there’s a surprising amount of variation between the number of votes the Presidential candidate for a given party gets in a particular district and the amount of votes a downballot candidate gets. I’ll explore this in some depth in a future post, but trust me on this. There can be a large difference, amounting to several percentage points. Finally, as we saw in 2008, nearly all of the growth in the Texas voter pool from 2004 came from Democratic voters. That likely won’t be as big and may not be as pronounced this time, but it’s not Republican voters that have caused Texas’ population surge this decade. My belief is that Obama starts out at the level he got in 2008, and is more likely to go up than down in 2012, and that’s before we consider the possibility that he might actually campaign here.

About the closest thing to a swing district would be freshman Rep. Quico Canseco’s (R-Texas) big and rural 23rd district, running from San Antonio to El Paso. McCain’s vote share would increase from 48 percent currently to 52 percent under the new plan, though, so Canseco would have an easier time in what’s looking like a rematch with former Rep. Ciro Rodriguez (D).

Again, you can’t just look at the Presidential numbers. In some districts, Obama ran ahead of other Democrats. In others, including the old and the reconfigured CD23, he ran behind other Democrats. As I said before, every downballot statewide Democrat other than Jim Jordan got at least a plurality in CD23, with Susan Strawn and Linda Yanez getting majorities. This district is friendlier to Canseco than the old CD23, and I call it a Lean Republican district, but it’s far from a slamdunk for him.

Freshman Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) may not have an easy time, either. But his South Texas 27th district would undergo significant changes and would grow seven points more Republican.

(Most of Farenthold’s current district is in what would be the new 34th district, but since most of that “new” district is from Farenthold’s current district — and the new 27th is a patchwork of other districts — we and others consider the 27th to be the new district, along with the 33rd, 35th and 36th.)

Ah, here’s the math error. If you are counting CD27 as the fourth “new” district, then you must also count Farenthold’s “old” district, which is now CD34, as one that would flip from the GOP to the Democrats, much as you counted Lloyd Doggett’s old CD25 as an R pickup. Otherwise, as we saw, you credit the GOP with a four seat gain instead of three. Which is technically a two-seat net gain – they go from a 14-seat advantage (23-9) to a 16-seat advantage (26-10), assuming they can hold onto Canseco.

Among other Republicans, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions gets a two-point bump to a 55 percent McCain district in his Dallas-based 32nd; Rep. Mike McCaul (R) keeps a 55 percent McCain district in the 10th; and GOP Reps. John Carter, Lamar Smith, Kay Granger and Joe Barton all see their districts get less Republican.

Freshman Rep. Bill Flores (R) would take the biggest hit, with his 17th district dropping from one where McCain got 67 percent to one where he would have gotten 58 percent. Flores would be taking one for the team, in order to add Republicans to nearby districts. But besides he and Granger (6 percent drop), no other Republican would see his or her district drop more than 2 percent, according to the 2008 presidential numbers.

And clearly this was either written before the Senate modified the original into Plan C136, or it was written in ignorance of that, as Plan C136 makes Ron Paul’s CD14 a lot less red, at least on the surface. (Plan C141, which made no further changes to CD14, is what was eventually passed by the full Senate.) Stuff does happen over the weekend, fellas, especially when the GOP considers it to be in its interest to get things done before the public figures out what’s going on.

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8 Responses to WaPo on Texas redistricting

  1. The proposed Republican (gerrymander) redistricting can only hold districts so long. The problem is that this last legislative session and special secession they are doing so much damage to essential programs that they will be nearly impossible to repair. They haven’t been honest about the budget that is not balanced. The Rainy Day Fund will already be obligated to make up for the budgeting smoke and mirrors this year but I believe you have already discussed that.

  2. PDiddie says:

    And tell Cillizza’s little helper that “Lone Star” is TWO words, dammit! Just like the beer. Freakin’ interns.

  3. Steven says:

    It is also worth noting that the Illinois redistricting map pushed through by democrats is designed to knock out as many republicans as possible, leaving them with as few as 5 of 18 seats, or about 27%. This in a state where republicans won 38% of the vote in the 2008 presidential election and 45% in 2004.

    Texas normally votes more heavily republican than 55%; for instance, in 2004 the state went for George Bush 61%-38% over John Kerry. The 44% that Obama received is probably the ceiling for any democrat in Texas. Clearly, gerrymandering is a factor with the party in power in any state, and the numbers never align completely with voter registration numbers or how the state normally votes.

  4. Stu says:

    @Steven “Texas normally votes more heavily republican than 55%”… Ummm not really; you happened to pick a presidential election between the the former Governor of Texas and a Massachusetts Senator. Kind of a natural high-water mark for Republicans, don’t you think?

    If you average the Republican vote for the last 4 elections, 55%, 61%, 59%, and 49%, you get an average of 56%. And 2 of those 4 had Bush, a then-current or former Texas Governor on the ballot. I suspect the “natural” Republican advantage in Texas is in the neighborhood of 3-4% (and dropping with the demographic trends). A “strong” (for Texas) Democrat could easily win the state over a weak Republican, but I’m not sure such a hypothetical Democrat could get the nomination. With the current Republican field, I suspect Obama will do better than 44% in 2012, but odds are against him winning the state unless the Republicans serve up a particularly weak candidate.

  5. blank says:

    According to Cook PVI, Texas is R+10 (55R-45D) and Illinois is D+8 (54D-46R). If the districts were randomly created, then we would expect to see 16.2 Dem seats in Texas and 9.72 seats in Illinois. The maps under consideration have 10 Dem seats in Texas, or a deviation of 6.2 seats in favor of the Republicans, and 13 Dem seats in Illinois, a deviation of 3.28 seats in favor the Democrats. In other words, yes Illinois is gerrymandered, but it does not come close to making up for the gerrymander in Texas.

  6. Eric Weinmann says:


    There are a few problems with your analysis here:

    1. The United States electoral system uses first past the post voting. It may seem unfair if Vote (v) = .55 than the number of seats apportioned should also be s = 0.55. However, this is fully fair in our system of voting (as has been for over 200 years). We do not use proportional voting, such as most of the European continent (which is what you argue for) or AV. As a result, under first past the post principals, having 72% representation for the majority party is fully fair and reasonable. If Congressman Al Green wins 72% of the vote, we wouldn’t ask him to vote with the Democrats 72% of the time… Majority rules…

    2. If the Democrats controlled Austin, the map would be lopsided the other way. You would, in this case, be arguing the merits of how wonderful the gerrymandered map is because it helps your party. It’s an opportunistic approach to redistricting.

    3. The DOJ draws our lines in all reality. If you want competitive districts, draw them based upon geography not race — but we aren’t allowed to do that, and thus are not allowed to have contested Congressional races with the exception of outliers.

    4. We can all agree on point 4 – Ron Paul loses his job! What wonderful news!

  7. blank says:

    The DOJ will almost certainly get involved with these maps.

  8. Bill Betzen says:

    The new Texas Congressional map is an insult to democracy!

    The new Texas Congressional map from PlanC235 takes a state with a 45% Anglo non-Hispanic population and gerrymanders the 36 districts such that 66% of them are majority Anglo. This is achieved without an election! When an election happens, and at the voting booth they eliminate those unable or unwilling to vote (that is what voting booths are for, not redistricting) it will push the Anglo majority numbers even higher, as normally happens in an election.

    How is the redistricting part of this equation done? Two reports were finished this week to illustrate. They can be downloaded from http://dallasredistricting2011.blogspot.com/2012/03/gerrymandered-texas-congressional-map.html The first report is a scatter graph that shows several exceptionally incriminating patterns that could never have happened by accident. It is obvious that this map was planned to produce the prejudicial outcome. The second report follows patterns with both the Anglo percentages and the Minority percentages. Again, these maps are no accident!

    This gerrymandered redistricting must be stopped in 2022, if this map cannot be eliminated before then!

    A more transparent redistricting process is mandatory! We must have more active and functional citizen involvement. It is obvious the Legislature ignored the repeated citizen testimony at the many redistricting hearings urging an end to gerrymandering. Citizens repeatedly asked for an end to the cutting up of their counties, cities and/or neighborhoods! They were ignored!

    The next redistricting process must be available online so that every citizen can draw their own maps and understand the immense power available with redistricting. Then more of the public will understand what has been happening behind closed doors. With the resulting anger, politicians will not dare repeat what they did with PlanC235 that is now apparently going to be the map used for the next 10 years.

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