Monday, October 16, 2017

2017 Downballot Race Ratings for Louisiana and Virginia

The year following a presidential election is often the sleepiest time for elections (although certainly not for politics). Indeed, this November will feature only three of this blog's favorite races to analyze: downballot constitutional offices. As always, Baseballot will be the only site on the World Wide Web handicapping these under-the-radar yet multi-million-dollar campaigns. As my colleagues at Inside Elections do for congressional elections, I rate each state executive race on a Solid-Likely-Lean-Tilt scale, with the very closest of races earning the coveted label of "Toss-up."

According to my Big, Bad Chart of Constitutional Offices, the seats on the ballot this year include one lieutenant governor, one attorney general, and one treasurer. As it turns out, all of these elections will probably continue the status quo in the two states where they are taking place. Below are my initial ratings for the three seats; in the future, these ratings can be found on the "2017 Ratings" tab in the menu above, where they will be updated through Election Day.


  • Treasurer: Solid Republican. After Treasurer John Kennedy was elected to the U.S. Senate in December 2016, a statewide special election was called to fill the remaining two years in his term. After six candidates squared off in the low-turnout October 14 jungle primary, Democrat Derrick Edwards (31%) and Republican John Schroder (24%) finished first and second to advance to the November 18 runoff. Democrats might have once had an outside shot at winning this seat: the party has overperformed in special elections thus far this year (probably due to the unpopularity of President Donald Trump), and the treasurer election just so happens to coincide with a competitive open mayoral race in dark blue New Orleans, meaning Democrats may constitute a disproportionate share of the electorate. However, it has quickly become apparent that Edwards isn't taking his campaign seriously. Despite an inspiring backstory (the wheelchair-bound Edwards was paralyzed by a brutal collision in a high-school football game; after doctors told him he would have to be cared for in an institution for the rest of his life, he instead got two graduate degrees and is now a practicing lawyer), Edwards has barely campaigned, missed campaign-finance deadlines, skipped debates and media events, and refused to talk about his plans until after he is elected. As a result, the Louisiana Democratic Party isn't even supporting his campaign, effectively ceding the race to the Republican Schroder, a former state representative. Schroder was the only candidate able to accrue significant funds from a tapped-out Louisiana donor class in the first phase of the campaign, raising more than all of his opponents combined ($436,954, compared to only $9,678 for Edwards). Now that he's the only Republican in the race, he'll use that dough to consolidate support and win easily.


Sometimes, a state's downballot races are decided by turnout at the top of the ticket, and it looks like that will be the case in Virginia this year: so far, the commonwealth's two constitutional-officer elections have tracked extremely closely with its hard-fought gubernatorial race. That contest is rated Lean Democratic by Inside Elections, but if it ends up being more Democratic or Republican than predicted, the two elections below will too. (All three elections take place on Tuesday, November 7.)
  • Lieutenant Governor: Lean Democratic. With a truly batty Republican primary behind us (which State Senator Jill Vogel might have won by spreading rumors that her opponent had an affair), the general election for lieutenant governor has been as uninteresting as the actual post, which is part-time and mostly consists of breaking ties in the State Senate. Vogel has struck an interesting balance between distancing herself from the rest of the Republican Party on issues like gay rights and also not showing any of Ed Gillespie's hesitance to embrace President Trump. Meanwhile, Democrat Justin Fairfax, who lost a close primary for attorney general in 2013, is attacking Vogel for her legal defense of various dark-money groups and a bill she sponsored to require women to have an invasive ultrasound before getting an abortion. Vogel also caused a mini-stir by saying Fairfax, who is black, couldn't "talk intelligently" on the issues. Ultimately, though, that gaffe is unlikely to make a splash in an ocean of daily Trump tweets, and, with each candidate having only about $300,000 in the bank, the LG race has been the quietest of Virginia's three campaigns on TV thus far. Polling shows Fairfax with a lead comparable to Democrat Ralph Northam's in the governor's race.
  • Attorney General: Lean Democratic. Instead, all the downballot action in Old Dominion is here. The Republican Attorneys General Association has poured $2.75 million into the campaign coffers of Republican candidate John Adams—and yet he still trails Democrat Mark Herring in total fundraising by $2.8 million. In response, the Democratic Attorneys General Association has given Herring $1.7 million, helping to fund a major TV blitz by the incumbent AG. Adams's campaign has responded in kind, and he is further buoyed by the air support of the NRA's political action committee, the only outside group advertising in a downballot race so far this year. Adams and his Republican allies are accusing Herring of politicizing the attorney general's office (Herring has sued the Trump administration over immigration and tried to prevent out-of-state gun permits from being used in Virginia), but this light blue state might actually be on board with that: Herring leads polls by as wide a margin as any of Virginia's three Democrats on the 2017 ballot.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Previewing Florida SD-40: Three Questions That Will Tell Us the Most About 2018

There's a special legislative election almost every week, but today we have a special special. Ever since Florida State Senator Frank Artiles called a fellow state senator a "fucking asshole" and a "bitch," called the Senate President a "pussy" who was only elected with the help of "six niggas," hired a Hooters calendar girl and a Playboy model as "campaign consultants," and resigned from office in disgrace, the race to replace him has been circled on my calendar—not for any reason related to the Florida-man antics on display from its former occupant, but rather due to the district itself.

Florida Senate District 40 covers Kendall and other dense suburbs southwest of Miami, stretching from South Dixie Highway (U.S. 1) near Dadeland Mall in the east to Krome Avenue in the west. According to Florida data consultant Matthew Isbell, it voted 57.1% for Hillary Clinton and 39.5% for Donald Trump in 2016 yet preferred Republican Marco Rubio to Democrat Patrick Murphy in that year's U.S. Senate race, 50% to 47%. At the same time, Artiles, a Republican, defeated Democrat Dwight Bullard 50.6% to 40.7% for what was (like it is today) an open State Senate seat.

Why the wide variation in results? A plurality of Florida SD-40's voters belong to the difficult-to-pin-down community of Cuban Americans. This historically Republican bloc has edged into competitiveness as young Cuban Americans (who are more liberal) come of age, the national parties have become more racially polarized, and/or President Trump has alienated the Hispanic community writ large. That explains why SD-40 largely rejected Trump in the 2016 presidential election while still supporting Rubio and Artiles (who are both Cuban American themselves). According to Isbell, an estimated 38% of the district's population is Cuban American. Overall, as of the 2010 Census (and, fair warning, South Florida is a rapidly changing area), the district was 74.6% Hispanic, 14.5% non-Hispanic white, and 8.0% non-Hispanic black.

Today, Democrat Annette Taddeo (who is half Italian American, half Colombian American) faces off against Republican José Felix Díaz (who is Cuban American). It's been an expensive campaign (political committees have spent $4.1 million on the race on top of the $1.8 million spent by the campaigns), and the outcome is legitimately in question (the only poll of the race, a three-month-old Democratic internal, gave Taddeo a 42–38% lead). The final results, which will trickle in starting at 7pm ET tonight, will be a particularly useful data point in our never-ending quest to figure out what's going to happen in 2018. There are three crucial questions that we need answered in order to understand how and whether Democrats can take back a U.S. House majority in next year's midterms, and, more than most special elections this year, Florida SD-40 will hold a clue to each of them.

1. Will the election be nationalized, or will voters consider it locally?

This is pretty simple. Unlike more uniform legislative and congressional districts, Republicans have recently done much better here downballot than at the top of the ticket. If voters cast their ballots based on their feelings toward Donald Trump and what is happening in Washington, it's good for Democrats. If they consider the two candidates in a vacuum, it's good for Republicans. Knowing this, Taddeo has tried to tie Díaz (who is a former contestant on The Apprentice!) to Trump with a contrastive TV ad, while Díaz has attempted to play up Taddeo's weaknesses, such as her support for the Colombian peace accord with the FARC and her alleged tolerance of the communist regimes in Cuba and China.

The final result will tell us which candidate was successful. If Taddeo approaches or even exceeds Clinton's 57% here, it could be a sign that this election was decided along national battle lines. That could bode well for Democrats in 2018 if everyone goes to the polls with the unpopular Trump in mind, not their local congressman. If Díaz wins, it's pretty solid evidence that local considerations can still win out in the age of Trump.

2. Will the electorate be more Democratic than usual?

The conventional wisdom about midterm elections is that the electorate is older, whiter, and more Republican than in presidential elections. But most of that conventional wisdom is rooted in the Obama midterms of 2010 and 2014, and the longer-term trend is that the president's party tends to suffer in midterm elections. Indeed, an enthusiasm gap in favor of the Democrats has been apparent lately in measures from the generic ballot to demonstrations. Democratic overperformance has also been a crystal-clear pattern in special-election results so far in 2017, but it'll be important to see whether it holds in SD-40 in particular. Because SD-40 is so heavily Hispanic, there is greater danger than usual of midterm dropoff voting harming Democratic chances. If Taddeo tonight follows in the footsteps of other Democratic special-election candidates across the nation and exceeds the typical Democratic performance in her district, it's a good sign for the party that the typical demographic forces of midterm elections can be overcome. If Díaz does better than expected, it'll suggest that Democrats still have a turnout problem among minority voters. (Note: the best basis for comparison here is not the district's presidential lean, for reasons explained above; instead, keep an eye on how Taddeo and Díaz perform relative to Bullard and Artiles in the last open State Senate race in this district just ten and a half months ago.)

3. Was 2016 a political realignment, or will election results revert to their pre-2016 norms?

Most special elections this year have taken place in districts that shifted toward Republicans in 2016 with Trump on the ticket—enough that we can be pretty sure that "Trump Democrats" aren't lost to Democrats forever. But we know a lot less about the opposite case: historically Republican Clinton voters. Will Democrats be able to hold onto them in future elections? Many of their best paths to a U.S. House majority go through districts, including several in heavily Hispanic California and Florida, that shifted toward Democrats in 2016.

Florida SD-40 is one of those districts. According to Isbell, voters within its lines went for Barack Obama over Mitt Romney 54.5% to 44.9% in 2012. In a scenario where Democrats succeed in nationalizing this special election, a smaller Taddeo win might suggest that voters are sticking with their 2012 preferences; a Taddeo blowout might suggest that the 2016 baseline is more accurate. However, because of this district's unusual ticket-splitting tendencies, it may not be easy (or appropriate) to directly compare the 2017 State Senate results with the 2016 and 2012 presidential results, as explained above. So while the district's (new or old, 2016 or 2012) partisan baseline will certainly factor into tonight's results, it will probably be the trickiest thing to tease out. Simply put, the race is expected to be far closer than either Obama's 9.6-point win or Clinton's 17.6-point win, so a nail-biter wouldn't necessarily mean that the more Republican-favorable (i.e., 2012) baseline is the correct one.

* * *

Indeed, all three of these factors are going to affect the final verdict in Florida SD-40 tonight—and yet we're only going to see one set of topline results. Admittedly, that may make it difficult to tease apart exactly what to take away from the election; for instance, the variables listed above could pull in multiple directions, muddling the analysis and leaving the door open to more than one explanation. There's another major confounder: the cleanup after Hurricane Irma. Many areas of the district, which was hit hard earlier this month, are still without power, and voting may simply not be many people's top priority. (Governor Rick Scott rejected the Democratic Party's request to postpone the election until life in South Florida returned to normal.)

So even though the answers to all three questions will lie hidden in tonight's two simple results—Taddeo X, Díaz Y—they may not be obvious. But the election will still be able to tell us something. Certain results could eliminate certain 2018 theories, and a select few results would offer unambiguous lessons. If Taddeo wins by 17 points or better (i.e., she does better than Clinton), all three questions will have been answered in Democrats' favor. If Díaz outperforms Artiles's 10-point win from 2016, Republicans will be dancing a jig of glee.

If you're looking for a more definitive lesson to take away from tonight's results, though, you're in luck. If nothing else, this election is likely to foreshadow the open race for Florida's 27th Congressional District, which is being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in 2018. Both FL-27 and SD-40 voted similarly in the 2016 and 2012 presidential races (both moving toward Democrats), both are three-quarters Hispanic, and both are open seats. In fact, they share many of the exact same voters: 24.1% of voters in FL-27 live in SD-40, and 34.7% of voters in SD-40 live in FL-27. Whichever party prevails tonight has to be considered the favorite in FL-27 next November—and that's one-twenty-fourth of Democrats' way to a majority.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Thanks to a Constitutional Quirk, Nothing to See in New Hampshire or Vermont in 2018

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu and Vermont Governor Phil Scott just took office seven months ago, and yet they are already having to run for reelection. New Hampshire and Vermont are unique among the states in that they elect their governors to two-year, rather than four-year, terms—resulting in nearly never-ending gubernatorial campaigns.

Democrats eager to start rebuilding their gubernatorial bench in 2018 are practically salivating over these two northern New England states. They doubtlessly look out on the Granite State’s political landscape and see a state that’s among the swingiest in the nation—one Donald Trump lost by just 2,736 votes in 2016—entering what could be a dramatic Democratic wave election. Meanwhile, in the Green Mountain State, a Republican sits on the throne of one of the most liberal states in the union—the home state of Bernie Sanders that went for Hillary Clinton by 26 points. You can understand why Democrats think they have an opening.

Unfortunately for them, their thinking is flawed; both Sununu and Scott are heavy favorites in 2018 due to the same underlying campaign context that Democrats think will help them. While New Hampshire and Vermont voters can be quite independent, that doesn’t mean they’re impatient enough to give up on their governors after just two short years. Indeed, these states’ unusual election calendars raise a very simple question: how often do governors lose reelection after only two years in office?

In addition to New Hampshire and Vermont, Rhode Island also elected governors to two-year terms until it amended its constitution effective 1994. Out of the collective past 85 biennial gubernatorial elections in those three states, an incumbent governor running for reelection after his or her first term has lost just one. It hasn’t happened in Vermont since 1962; it didn’t happen in Rhode Island after 1962; and it has happened just once (2004) in New Hampshire in the past 90 years. Indeed, running for governor against a two-year incumbent could be considered insane by one famous definition—doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.

This is a significant difference in job security from governors elected quadrennially. As we’ve all observed, one-term governors are hardly unusual in the other 47 and a half states. It also becomes a lot more likely that Vermont, sometime Rhode Island, and especially New Hampshire governors lose reelection or retire once they serve four years:

What accounts for this near-invincibility? Most likely, it’s an extended honeymoon period. When any politician enters office, he or she generally enjoys increased popularity and political capital. Most of them are able to convert this political capital into action and results, which in turn lifts their popularity even higher. It’s not until a few years down the line that voters begin to get sick of their governor and/or the candidate falters.

This theory arises from the fact that, not only do two-year governors almost always win their first reelection battles, but they almost always do so even more convincingly than they won the corner office in the first place. Historical results for New Hampshire, Vermont, and Rhode Island gubernatorial elections going back to 1972 point to the electoral potency of a two-year incumbency:

That’s an average boost of 7.0 percentage points to the incumbent’s vote share and an average 13.4-point widening of his or her margin of victory. That’s conservative, too; Bruce Sundlun drags down the data because he did so well in his first election that his reelection (which he won comfortably) couldn’t possibly match it. In addition, Madeleine Kunin’s vote share fell in her reelection bid even though her margin of victory increased; that was because she faced a credible third-party challenger (Sanders, of all people) in 1986 as well.

Craig Benson in 2004—the one two-year governor during this period to lose reelection—remains the only truly concerning precedent for Sununu and Scott. Indeed, he is a poster child for what not to do in your first two-year term as governor: flout ethics rules, overreach legislatively, and make enemies. However, Sununu and Scott have avoided any such missteps, and their net approval ratings are sky high. They look well ensconced in their aforementioned honeymoon periods, and they are well on the path of every non-Benson two-year governor since 1972 to comfortable reelections. If historical averages hold, Sununu can expect to receive about 56% of the vote in 2018 to his opponent’s 40%; Scott can expect to prevail 60% to 38%.

But there’s also a warning hidden in the data. Two of the three governors whose margins of victory shrank in their reelection campaigns have served within the last 15 years; the recentness of Benson’s example is certainly a red flag. Could we be entering a period of more impatience in the electorate? Are the 21st century’s heightened partisanship and increased correlation between national and state election results finally overpowering these states’ longstanding traditions of voting for the person over the party? It’s impossible to tell as of yet, but it’s something for Sununu and Scott to be mindful of. By no means can they afford to sit back and take reelection for granted. But with prepared and competent incumbents, Republicans at least have history on their side.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How Many Fans Does Each MLB Team Have?: The 2017 Baseball Census

For the second straight year, Harris failed to release its formerly annual baseball poll. Usually conducted right around the All-Star break, the survey is valuable as pretty much our only direct measure of which MLB team is most popular nationwide. But now that I fear the Harris baseball poll has met its permanent demise, anyone interested in the demographics of baseball fans has to take matters into his or her own hands.

That's what I've done for the last three years here at Baseballot. Harris may be the only pollster that canvasses the whole nation about all 30 teams, but our friends over at Public Policy Polling (PPP) love to throw a baseball question or two into their state-by-state political polls. For each state that PPP polls, I use the latest population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau to estimate a raw number of fans for each team in that state. Here are the cumulative figures nationwide for July 2017:

Team Fans Team Fans
New York Yankees 25,226,872 Colorado Rockies 5,017,208
Boston Red Sox 20,193,922 Kansas City Royals 4,830,504
Atlanta Braves 20,085,743 Baltimore Orioles 4,612,809
Chicago Cubs 18,407,160 Minnesota Twins 4,541,341
San Francisco Giants 11,353,160 Cleveland Indians 4,331,383
Texas Rangers 10,414,884 Arizona Diamondbacks 4,207,748
St. Louis Cardinals 8,743,144 Pittsburgh Pirates 4,161,965
Los Angeles Dodgers 8,380,484 Milwaukee Brewers 3,975,281
Detroit Tigers 7,594,395 Oakland Athletics 3,842,463
New York Mets 7,035,826 San Diego Padres 3,371,712
Houston Astros 6,734,407 Chicago White Sox 3,023,366
Los Angeles Angels 6,702,815 Tampa Bay Rays 3,017,097
Seattle Mariners 6,023,758 Miami Marlins 2,979,375
Philadelphia Phillies 5,402,108 Washington Nationals 2,812,690
Cincinnati Reds 5,107,524 Toronto Blue Jays* 210,801

*These numbers do not include fans in Canada, meaning the Blue Jays are surely underrepresented.

Unfortunately, we haven't gotten a lot of new baseball polls in the past 12 months; PPP was busy asking poll questions about something else, I guess. We did get a new poll of Florida, which is as much a baseball bellwether as it is a political one. In last September's poll, the Yankees reclaimed the title of Florida's favorite baseball team, just as they are America's favorite team with an estimated 25,226,872 fans nationwide. New York (AL) leapfrogged ahead of the Marlins and Rays in the Sunshine State, the two teams fighting for the dubious honor of least popular in the United States. (The numbers above don't include Washington, DC, either, so the Nationals are undercounted just like the Blue Jays.)

We also learned about the baseball preferences of Utah for the first time (finding: they don't really care too much), bringing the coverage of our makeshift baseball census to 39 of the 50 states (representing 88.5% of the U.S. population). Here's what's still missing:

Obviously, then, there are some limitations to this exercise. Missing states like Indiana and Alabama means our numbers for teams like the Cubs/White Sox and Braves are lower than they truly are. And PPP's baseball questions are worded in an opt-out manner, so 78% of poll respondents nationwide claimed to have a favorite team even though we know that only around 40–50% of Americans are baseball fans. On the other hand, PPP also only has time to ask about eight or so MLB teams per state, meaning the handful of fans of the other ~22 teams in that state don't get counted. So, yes, this census is hardly scientific, but it's a fun rough approximation of some very interesting data.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Why Ditching Pelosi Would Be Pointless

I don't have strong feelings one way or the other about whether Democrats should fire Nancy Pelosi. But I do have strong feelings about people who howl incessantly that Democrats should fire Nancy Pelosi. There would be no point to forcing her out—and Democrats certainly wouldn't be solving all their apparent electoral problems* by doing so.

There's no question that Republicans have had success using Pelosi as a bogeyman in campaign ads—"vote for the Democrat," they threaten, "and Pelosi's liberal agenda will take over the country!" But do any Democrats really think that these ads will stop without Pelosi in power? That Republicans will just throw up their arms and say, "Oh well, I guess we can't attack Democrats anymore"? No; the GOP will simply move on to the next-best bogeyman—probably Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Furthermore, whoever Democrats pick to succeed Pelosi—even if it's someone eminently likable—will immediately become the target of Republican attacks and will suffer a popularity hit as a result. It is the other party's job to try to define its opponents in a negative way. It is one of the great paradoxes of politics that party leaders (at least in Congress) are always among the least popular members of that party—but that's a feature, not a bug. The very act of being in leadership makes you less popular. That's why it's tempting to always think that a party's congressional leader is the absolute worst choice for the job, but really no one else would do much better.

Others might argue that Pelosi's age (she just turned 77 in March) is holding Democrats back. But I fail to see why Pelosi's age matters to the average voter other than just being one of the ingredients in the Republican cocktail of discrediting her. This is not the United Kingdom; voters don't go to the polls to choose between Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan. They vote for the local candidates in their districts, and as long as Democrats nominate appealing individual candidates (and yes, youth/vigor can be an element of that), the age of the potential speaker of the House doesn't matter.

Nor do I really see anything for Democrats to gain by picking a dynamic new leader. Republicans basically tried this, switching from John Boehner to the young and likable Paul Ryan in 2015. As a result, Ryan's unpopularity shot up, and although his GOP did well in the 2016 congressional elections, I don't know anyone who says it was because of Ryan. The reality is that, in our president-centric system of government, it's just not clear that congressional leadership makes much of a difference in elections (again, apart from being convenient fodder for attack ads). Tim Ryan or Katherine Clark or whoever Democrats pick isn't going to zigzag the nation kissing babies and winning over voters. That's just not the role our legislative leaders play.

There's already a debate in political science over whether presidential elections are a referendum or a choice. Basically, even when the opposition formally agrees that Polly Tishan is going to be the face of their party, and even when Polly embarks on an exhaustive campaign schedule, half of political scientists still think voters are essentially just voting based on what they think of the incumbent president. So in a midterm election like 2018, what chance does the face of the Democratic Party have of convincing voters to cast their ballots primarily as a statement of support for him or her? Fundamentally, our system of government and our electoral culture does not lend itself to Theresa May-vs.-Jeremy Corbyn-style ideological and personal movements. The question of the 2018 election is likely to be simple and blunt: "Donald Trump—yes or no?"

Democrats can decide for themselves what to do about Pelosi. But they would be foolish to think that getting rid of her is a panacea. There is no Democratic House member ready to step in who already has a bulletproof national brand and won't be able to be defined negatively by Republicans. The other party is always going to find a way to demonize your congressional leadership. Electorally, they can never help you, and you should probably just accept that they are inevitably going to harm you. So both parties: stop picking (and picking on) your legislative leaders based on political considerations or popularity. Choose them for their actual job: their ability to cut legislative deals and govern effectively. At the ballot box, it absolutely will not matter one bit.

*I'm not even convinced that they have electoral problems, to be honest. Yes, eventually they will need to sort through their internal divisions to pick a 2020 presidential nominee and settle on a grand message to compete with Donald Trump's, but for midterm elections, just being the opposition party is often more than sufficient.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Reflections on the 2017 Congressional Baseball Game

I always look forward to the Congressional Baseball Game; it's the platonic ideal of my two main interests combined. Usually, it's a fun and intimate affair—me and 10,000 of my closest friends watching the sloppiest All-Star Game of all time—but that all changed this year when a gunman opened fire on a Republican baseball practice the day before the game.

Although, thankfully, no one was killed, the tragedy completely reshaped our fun little tradition. Heavy security and solemn pregame ceremonies changed how I covered the game this year. A flood of interest in the Congressional Baseball Game suddenly meant lots of people were asking me about my experience covering the game and my research into its history. It was, frankly, a blur of activity that I even had trouble sorting through as I was living it. However, for you, my dear reader, I will attempt to make sense of it all. Here are all the articles and quotes I contributed to coverage of this year's Congressional Baseball Game.
Last Wednesday's shooting was, without question, the biggest story in the 108-year history of the Congressional Baseball Game. Without the heroism of the three Capitol Police officers stationed at the practice, it could have been the bloodiest assassination incident in American history. Extremely fortunately, it was not that, but instead evolved into a moment of national unity, bringing awareness to a truly good-hearted charity tradition that did not deserve to be sullied in such a way but absolutely deserves the warm embrace it received from the nation on Thursday night. A full 24,959 spectators attended the game, more than double its previous record attendance; over $1.5 million were raised for charity, another record; and six million people (!) watched the game as it was livestreamed on Facebook. Out of a horrible attack, I was thrilled to see some true goodness emerge.

Friday, May 12, 2017

How to Solve Gerrymandering

Even in today's era of political polarization, there should be a few things we can all agree on. Puppies are cute. Arsenic is bad. Broccoli is the devil's food. And letting politicians draw uncompetitive districts for their own benefit is bad for democracy.

Members of both parties have voiced support for taking partisanship out of the process of drawing congressional and legislative districts. And yet, instead of being the rare issue where both parties are eager to get something done, redistricting reform has proven nearly impossible to implement. The latest example of why comes from the great state of Maryland. Republican Governor Larry Hogan has made an independent redistricting commission one of his top priorities. The Democratic legislature passed a redistricting reform bill with strong majorities. But, this week, Hogan vetoed the measure.

The reason is pure self-interest. The Democratic bill would have only switched Maryland's redistricting process to an independent commission if five nearby states did so first; Hogan, contending that this will never happen, is holding out for a bill that would have Maryland unilaterally disarm. That too will never happen. While Democrats may support nonpartisan redistricting in the abstract, Maryland Democrats correctly see it as a threat to their power. Partisan redistricting always favors the dominant party, and a state as blue as Maryland gives Democrats the opportunity to creatively mold several more Democratic seats in Congress than they are entitled to. They’ve done just that, as 87.5% of Maryland’s congressional delegation (seven of eight) are Democrats despite the party receiving just 60.4% of the combined statewide vote in the last round of congressional elections.

Maryland Democrats aren’t alone in this cartographical trickery. Most states gerrymander their districts, to varying degrees of blatancy, including several Republican-controlled states, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Texas. Like an arms race in an electoral cold war, neither side is going to give up its advantage until the other one does. And so reform languishes.

The Democratic bill hints at a solution but doesn't go far enough. Would-be redistricting reformers can't just sit back waiting for other states to take action on their own; they have to make a deal. Maryland’s gerrymandering problem won’t be solved in Annapolis. In fact, the key to getting fair districts in the Old Line State actually lies in Indiana.

If the Maryland Legislature is ever going to agree to an independent redistricting commission, Hogan needs to strike a deal with another state legislature—a Republican one—first. If Maryland and a red state both agree to stop gerrymandering, the Republican gain in Maryland and the Democratic gain in the other state would cancel each other out—but elections in both states would be more fair. And as it turns out, Indiana is the perfect partner in such a compact.

Like Maryland Democrats, Indiana Republicans have succeeded at gerrymandering their home state. Although the GOP won only 54% of the congressional popular vote in Indiana in 2016, the party controls 78% of the congressional delegation—seven out of nine seats. Reformers in Indiana have likewise tried to implement an independent redistricting commission, getting a bill through the Indiana State House in 2014. But while the appetite was there, the effort was also eventually killed by entrenched interests. Indiana is also comparable in size to Maryland, making the two states a fair trade. If Indiana switched to an independent redistricting commission, it would likely elect five Republicans and four Democrats. That net loss of two Republicans would balance out the two-seat gain that the GOP would probably see under a fair congressional map in Maryland.

Indiana is the best option on a short list of possible partners for Maryland. Wisconsin and Missouri each seats eight representatives—an even more precise match for Maryland—but Missouri already uses a hybrid redistricting system of legislators plus a commission. Wisconsin Republicans, meanwhile, are unlikely to go along since they risk losing control of this blue-tinged state altogether. Tennessee is another possible choice, with its Hoosier-esque 7–2 Republican congressional delegation, but it is more Republican than Maryland is Democratic.

There are still some obstacles faced by such a “grand bargain” between states. First, congressional incumbents in danger of losing their safe seats would certainly pressure their legislators to vote against the plan. In addition, redistricting affects not only the composition of Congress, but also state legislatures themselves; Maryland Democrats and Indiana Republicans would not be enthusiastic about the prospect of reducing their majorities. Although she might regard the swap of congressional seats as equitable, the average Maryland Democrat probably doesn’t care enough about Indiana that she values a State Senate seat there as highly as one back home. And because the plan would redraw existing legislative districts, there is the reality that some of the people asked to vote for this arrangement would lose their seats as a direct result.

Reformers would still have to lobby lawmakers hard to look past these issues, but they are not the main reason redistricting reform has stalled in Maryland and in state houses across the nation. Reformers cannot expect to make progress asking the majority party to give up leverage without getting anything in return. Perhaps soon the many states failing to end gerrymandering on their own will discover the elegant solution of looking to each other for help.