Debunking the “Republicans Gerrymandered their 2014 Win!” meme

As we all know, the Republicans won big last week, taking over 240 House seats and flipping control of the Senate. This has lead to some predictable hand-wringing from the Left, who are all loathe to admit that maybe, just maybe, Americans haven’t been thrilled with their performance.

One meme claims that Democrats actually won the elections on Tuesday, but lost because “gerrymandered” districts pack Democrats into dense urban areas and give Republicans a slight advantage in other districts.  Thus, Democrats received 54,301,095 votes for their Congressional candidates, Republicans only received 53,822,442 votes, and the victorious Democrats lost.  (See article by Ezra Klein.)

The claim to gerrymandering isn’t supported by actual evidence in an actual state of actual districts that have been gerrymandered to Republican advantage.  The claim rests solely upon a straight-up comparison of number of votes received to number of seats won; here is one example of this sloppy thinking.

Let’s start a mathematical debunking of this nonsense.

First point: there are a lot of ways to gerrymander a district, but they don’t involve crossing state lines.

The people who are wailing and gnashing their teeth about Congress have precious little to say about the absolute destruction that was wrecked upon Democrat candidates in the Senate, but focus only on the House.  If the analysis of “more votes but fewer wins because of gerrymandering” were correct, we would expect that the Democrats would have held their own in the Senate.  Senate candidates run statewide, in lines determined decades or centuries ago, while Congressmen run in districts that were redrawn after the 2010 Census.  No such argument was made.  Nor was any argument made that winning states like Wyoming or Montana, which have exactly one ungerrymandable Congressional district, is somehow not fair.

Likewise, the Republican dominance in gubernatorial and statewide elections indicates that the issue is not one of gerrymandered districts so much as electoral disgust with Democrats.  What is Ezra Klein’s argument: we gerrymandered the entire state of Illinois? Maryland? Massachusetts?

Second point: drawing districts does not involve rearranging people, and ideally, it should involve putting similar people together.

It is fundamentally unserious to argue that liberals do not self-select for urban areas and conservatives, for suburban and rural areas.  Likewise, it is fundamentally wrong to suggest that districts ought to be drawn so that the proportion of the vote given statewide to certain parties reflects the proportion of seats received.  You group urban people together, fishermen together, and rural farmers together to make districts with cohesive interests.  “Gerrymandering” means drawing an absurd district to keep in control of one party (e.g. 200 miles long and a half-mile wide), not drawing a sane, logical district that happens to favour one party (e.g. a city district and a suburban district).  Unless liberals can point to an actual district in an actual state that is drawn by conservatives to group unlike people together for Republican advantage, their argument is unserious.

Simply pointing to a statistical discrepancy and then deciding that it is the result of discrimination is ridiculous and has been repeatedly debunked.

That brings me to my third point: the math doesn’t support the Democrat position.

Massachusetts has nine Congressional districts; only three districts were contested races (the 3d, 6th, and 9th districts).  Democrats picked up a total of 427,669 votes in those three races; Republicans picked up 307,685 votes.  In the other six districts, Republicans picked up exactly zero votes and Democrats received about a half-million votes. (As of the writing of this blog post, the election results for each district have not been posted on the Secretary of State’s website. I am basing this estimate off of the difference between the number of votes received by Martha Coakley and the votes received by the three Democrat congressmen who won contested races; presumably, almost everyone who came out to vote for Coakley cast a ballot for the uncontested Democrat congressman.)

The 478,000 national vote difference between the Democrats and Republicans can be explained almost entirely by uncontested races in Massachusetts.  Either Massachusetts is a state unlike any other, or many other liberal strongholds featured uncontested Congressional races (e.g. New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles), in which the Democrat picked up votes that count to the national “mandate” vote total but no Republican does.  Given that about two hundred thousand people vote in any Congressional race, a Republican in a blue, blue district would get about thirty to sixty thousand votes.

The Ezra Klein argument boils down to this: since Republicans did not waste resources on unwinnable races for the sole purpose of convincing Ezra Klein to stuff it, gerrymandering caused this statistical discrepancy.



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