The great Southern gerrymander continues in 2016
Despite the upsets and shocks of the 2016 election, the results for one governing body came as no surprise — that of the U.S. House of Representatives.
While Southern states like Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia were hotly contested in the presidential race and in some cases in U.S. Senate races, there was never much of a question that Republicans would maintain their edge in these states' congressional delegations or that they would keep control of the House overall. While Democrats did gain seats in the House on Tuesday, Republicans still continue to hold a 239 to 193 majority.
That's due in no small part to gerrymandering — politicians drawing district lines for partisan advantage. Often criticized for corrupting the democratic process by allowing representatives to pick their voters and create "safe" districts, the practice was used largely to Republicans' advantage in Southern states as they swept control of many legislatures in 2010 and drew new district lines that would be in place for the decade to come.
As Facing South documented after the 2012 and 2014 elections, the consequence of gerrymandering in the South has resulted in a significant underrepresentation of Democrats among the region's congressional delegates. In 2012, 41 percent of Southerners voted for a Democrat, but Democrats made up only 29 percent of U.S. representatives from the South. That meant Southern Democratic voters were four times more likely to be underrepresented in Congress than the national average.
The gap persists in 2016 in many Southern states, according to a Facing South analysis of the election results. In West Virginia, for example, one-third of the state's voters cast a ballot for a Democratic candidate, yet there are no Democrats among the state's three representatives. Meanwhile in South Carolina, nearly four in 10 votes in U.S. House races were cast for a Democrat, yet only one out of the state's seven representatives (14 percent) is a Democrat. (Click on the chart for a larger version.)
One of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering has been in North Carolina, which the Washington Post said had three of the 10 most gerrymandered districts in the country. The state had to redraw its congressional districts this spring after a federal judge invalidated some for being racially gerrymandered.
But the new maps didn't change much by way of representation. In 2014, 44 percent of North Carolinians voted for a Democratic representative, yet only three out of 13 (23 percent) of the state's representatives were Democrats. In 2016, the share of North Carolina voters casting ballots for Democrats increased to 47 percent, yet the partisan balance was unchanged: three Democrats and 10 Republicans.
"People get discouraged," said Rep. Alma Adams (D) who won re-election in North Carolina's 12th congressional district, which is considered the country's most gerrymandered. When people know who's going to win in a district, they don't bother to vote, Adams said.
Many have pointed to better ways of drawing districts. This summer, Duke University and Common Cause North Carolina teamed up to simulate what nonpartisan district lines could look like. Of the 13 North Carolina districts, their map included six that were likely Republican, four likely Democrat and three that were competitive.
"This is experiment is a good demonstration of how it can be done," said Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause North Carolina.
His group is currently suing state leaders over drawing political lines on a partisan basis.
Allie is a research fellow at the Institute for Southern Studies and is currently studying at the Yale School of Management. Her research focuses on demographic change, immigration, voting and civic engagement.