Electoral Districts in the U.S.: Gerrymandering as an Aspect of Partisan Competition

DOI: 10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-10-52-63
A. Bunina (abunina@imemo.ru),
Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences (IMEMO), Profsoyuznaya Str., 23, Moscow, 117997, Russian Federation

Abstract. The paper conducts a comprehensive study of gerrymandering. First, the author describes the regulation of the redistricting process in the United States, focusing on the methods to limit partisan influence. Any commission but independent would still provide some space for gerrymandering. Even bipartisan control is not enough, as the parties would be willing to gerrymander with compromise, thus lowering competition. Looking for a method to measure gerrymandering, the author studies scholarship on the issue, specifically approaches to fairness and competition of elections. It is concluded that any method of redistricting is flawed, and thus any decision on congressional districts will have political consequences, changing the balance in favor of one of the parties. Next, the paper provides the 2018 election data to illustrate the features of the U.S. electoral geography and explains the complexity of competition between the parties. Polarization leads to clustering of partisan supporters, which naturally diminishes the competition, making the system less responsive. Ongoing demographic trends form a distribution of voters that is easier to gerrymander to advantage the Republican Party. The author considers this one of the two reasons why the Democratic Party has been advocating for independent commissions and court-ruled maps. The second reason is that this party was the victim of well-planned gerrymandering in 2011. Both sides now have entities to coordinate efforts on state elections campaigns and win seats to control redistricting, as it will cement their partisan advantage for 10 years. Finally, the article analyzes data showing the degree of 2011 gerrymandering. Regardless of serious Republican gains in 2010, the Democrats were able to gerrymander several states. This shows that Democrats condemn gerrymandering but abuse redistricting, too. The author forecasts that this duality will persist after 2020. If in control, the Democrats would not only cancel the Republican gerrymandering, but would be willing to use the tool themselves.

Keywords: Gerrymandering, U.S. electoral system, electoral districts, Congress elections, electoral geography, polarization, Republican Party, Democratic party, U. S. House of Representatives


1. McGhee E. Partisan Gerrymandering and Political Science. Annual Review of Political Science, 2020, vol. 23, pp. 171-185. DOI:https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-polisci‑060118-045351

2. Abramowitz A., Alexander B., Gunning M. Don’t Blame Redistricting for Uncompetitive Elections. PS: Political Science and Politics, 2006, vol. 39, no. 1, pp. 87-90.

3. Keena A., Latner M., McGann A.J., Smith C.A. Gerrymandering in America. The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2016. 268 p.

4. Engstrom E. Stacking the States, Stacking the House: The Partisan Consequences of Congressional Redistricting in the 19th Century. American Political Science Review, 2006, vol. 100, no. 3, pp. 419-427. DOI:10.1017/S0003055406062277

5. Cain B.E. Assessing the partisan effects of redistricting. American Political Science Review, 1985, vol. 79, pp. 320-333.

6. Butler D., Cain B. Congressional Redistricting: Comparative and Theoretical Perspectives. New York, Macmillan, 1992. 182 p.

7. Miller W.J., Walling J.D. The Political Battle over Congressional Redistricting. Plymouth, Lexington Books, 2013. 442 p.

8. Carson J.L., Crespin M.H. The Effect of State Redistricting Methods on Electoral Competition in United States House of Representatives Races. State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 2004, vol. 4, no. 4, pp. 455-469. Available at: www.jstor.org/stable/40421531 (accessed 21.07.2020).

9. Number of states using redistricting commissions growing. The Associated Press, 21.03.2019. Available at: https://apnews.com/4d2e2aea7e224549af61699e51c955dd (accessed 15.07.2020).

10. Courtney J. Electoral Districting in the U.S.: Can Canada Help? Issues in Governance Studies, 2008, no. 17, pp. 1-9.

11. Mann T.E., O’Brien S., Persily N. Redistricting and the United States Constitution. Brookings, 22.11.2011. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/on-the-record/redistricting-and-the-united-states-constitution/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

12. Kaylan Ph. Symposium: Much ado about partisan gerrymandering. SCOTUSblog, 07.02.2019. Available at: https://www.scotusblog.com/2019/02/symposium-much-ado-about-partisan-gerrymandering/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

13. Broadwater L. U.S. Supreme Court rules in Maryland case that courts have no role in deciding partisan gerrymandering. The Baltimore Sun, 27.06.2019. Available at: https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-supreme-court-maryland-redistricting-20190620-story.html (accessed 15.07.2020).

14. Kogan V., McGhee E. Redistricting California: An Evaluation of the Citizens Commission Final Plans. California Journal of Politics and Policy, 2012, vol. 4, Iss.1, pp. 1-32. DOI:10.5070/P23K5Q

15. Polsby D.D., Popper R.D. The third criterion: Compactness as a procedural safeguard against partisan gerrymandering. Yale Law and Policy Review, 1991, vol. 9, no. 6, pp. 301-353.

16. Grofman B., King G. The Future of Partisan Symmetry as a Judicial Test for Partisan Gerrymandering after LULAC v. Perry. Election Law Journal, 2007, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 1-35. DOI:10.1089/elj.2006.0000

17. McGhee E., Stephanopoulos N. Partisan Gerrymandering and the Efficiency Gap. Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers, 2014, no. 493. Available at: https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1946&context=public_law_and_legal_theory (accessed 18.07.2020).

18. Liu Y.Y., Tam Cho W.K., Wang S. PEAR: A Massively Parallel Evolutionary Computation Approach for Political Redistricting Optimization and Analysis. Swarm and Evolutionary Computation, 2016, vol. 30, pp. 78-92. DOI:10.1016/j.swevo.2016.04.004

19. Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group. Available at: https://mggg.org/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

20. Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Available at: http://gerrymander.princeton.edu (accessed 15.07.2020).

21. Brennan Center for Justice. Available at: https://www.brennancenter.org/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

22. Bycoffe A., Koeze E., Wasserman D., Wolfe J. The Atlas of Redistricting. FiveThirtyEight, 25.01.2018. Available at: https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/redistricting-maps/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

23. Klarreich E. Gerrymandering Is Illegal, but Only Mathematicians Can Prove It. Wired, 16.04.2017. Available at: https://www.wired.com/2017/04/gerrymandering-illegal-mathematicians-can-prove/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

24. Lai J., Navratil L. Pennsylvania, Gerrymandered: A Guide to Pa.’s Congressional Map Redistricting Fight. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 24.09.2018. Available at: https://www.inquirer.com/philly/news/politics/state/pennsylvania-gerrymandering-case-congressional-redistricting-map-coverage-guide-20180615.html (accessed 15.07.2020).

25. Voter Registration & Historical Data. Secretary of State of Arizona, 2018. Available at: https://azsos.gov/elections/voter-registration-historical-election-data (accessed 15.07.2020).

26. Federal Elections 2018. Federal Election Commission. Available at: https://www.fec.gov/introduction-campaign-finance/election-and-voting-information/federal-elections-2018/ (accessed 12.07.2020).

27. Montgomery D. CityLab’s Congressional Density Index. Bloomberg CitiLab, 2018. Available at: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-11-20/citylab-s-congressional-density-index (accessed 15.07.2020).

28. Yglesias M. It’s harder for Democrats to gerrymander effectively. Vox, 02.04.2018. Available at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/4/2/17173158/democrats-gerrymander-segregation (accessed 15.07.2020).

29. U.S. General Elections 2018 – Unofficial Returns Massachusetts Institute of Technology Election Data + Science Lab, 2018. Available at: https://electionlab.mit.edu/data (accessed 20.07.2020).

30. Chen J., Rodden J. Unintentional Gerrymandering: Political Geography and Electoral Bias in Legislatures. Quarterly Journal of Political Science, 2013, vol. 8, pp. 239-269. DOI:10.1561/100.00012033

31. 2020 House Race Ratings. Cook Political Report, 16.07.2020. Available at: https://cookpolitical.com/ratings/house-race-ratings (accessed 20.07.2020).

32. Lo A. Citizen and Legislative Efforts to Reform Redistricting in 2018. Brennan Center for Justice, 07.11.2018. Available at: https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/citizen-and-legislative-efforts-reform-redistricting-2018 (accessed 15.07.2020).

33. Daley D. Ratf**ked: Why your vote does not count. New York, Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2014. 352 p.

34. NRRT National Finance Chairman Scott Walker. Available at: https://www.thenrrt.org/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

35. The Redistricting Majority Project. Available at: http://www.redistrictingmajorityproject.com/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

36. Dovere E.-I. Obama, Holder to Lead Post-Trump Redistricting Campaign. Politico, 17.10.2016. Available at: https://www.politico.com/story/2016/10/obama-holder-redistricting-gerrymandering-229868 (accessed 15.07.2020).

37. Burns A. Eric Holder’s Group Targets All-G.O.P. States to Attack Gerrymandering. The New York Times, 06.02.2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/06/us/politics/democrats-gerrymandering-election-maps.html (accessed 15.07.2020).

38. Jessica Post. Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. Available at: https://www.dlcc.org/jessica-post (accessed 15.07.2020).

39. H.R.1 – For the People Act of 2019. Library of Congress. Available at: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/1 (accessed 15.07.2020).

40. The Presidential Election Reform Act. Legislative Analyst’s Office, 21.08.2007. Available at: https://lao.ca.gov/BallotAnalysis/BallotDetail?id=620 (accessed 15.07.2020).

41. Wolf S. Republicans Move Forward with Plans to Gerrymander the Electoral College in Three States. Daily Kos Elections, 25.01.2017. Available at: https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2017/1/25/1625053/-Republicans-move-forward-with-plansto-gerrymander-the-Electoral-College-in-three-states (accessed 15.07.2020).

42. Beauchamp Z. New Jersey Democrats are Threatening to Undermine Their State’s Democracy. Vox, 14.12.2018. Available at: https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/12/14/18140773/new-jersey-democrats-gerrymandering-2018 (accessed 15.07.2020).

43. Corasaniti N. After Backlash, Democrats in New Jersey Rethink Redistricting Plans. The New York Times, 16.12.2018. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/16/nyregion/redistricting-nj-democrats-republicans.html (accessed 15.07.2020).

44. Ingraham C. How Maryland Democrats Pulled off Their Aggressive Gerrymander. The Washington Post, 28.03.2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/03/28/how-maryland-democrats-pulled-off-their-aggressive-gerrymander/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

45. Gastil J. The Republicans’ Big Gerrymander Could Backfire in a Major Way. The Washington Post, 10.08.2016. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/10/the-republicans-big-gerrymander-could-backfire-in-a-major-way/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

46. Wines M. In the War Against Gerrymandering, an Army of Voters Meets a Dug-in Foe. The New York Times, 15.08.2019. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/15/us/gerrymandering-redistricting-wisconsin.html (accessed 15.07.2020).

47. Arizona Gains Rhode Island’s Seat with New 2018 Census Estimates; But Greater Change Likely by 2020. Election Data Services, 19.12.2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/08/10/the-republicans-big-gerrymander-could-backfire-in-a-major-way/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

48. Rakich N. How Arizona Became a Swing State. FiveThirtyEight, 29.06.2020. Available at: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/how-arizona-became-a-swing-state/ (accessed 15.07.2020).

49. Vespa J., Medina L., Armstrong D. Demographic Turning Points for the United States: Population Projections for 2020 to 2060. Population Estimates and Projections. United States Census Bureau, 2020. Available at: https://permanent.fdlp.gov/gpo93743/P25_1144.pdf (accessed 15.07.2020).

Registered in System SCIENCE INDEX

For citation:
Bunina A. Electoral Districts in the U.S.: Gerrymandering as an Aspect of Partisan Competition. World Eonomy and International Relations, 2020, vol. 64, no. 10, pp. 52-63. https://doi.org/10.20542/0131-2227-2020-64-10-52-63

Comments (0)

No comments

Add comment






Dear authors! Please note that in the VAK List of peer-reviewed scientific journals, in which the main scientific results of dissertations for the degree of candidate and doctor of sciences should be published for the “MEMO Journal” the following specialties are recorded:
economic sciences:
5.2.5. World Economy.
5.2.1. Economic Theory
5.2.3. Regional and Branch Economics
political sciences:
5.5.4. International Relations
5.5.1. History and Theory of Politics
5.5.2. Political Institutions, Processes, Technologies


Current Issue
2024, vol. 68, No. 7
Topical Themes of the Issue:
  • The Supporting Structure of Global Security
  • Institutional Features of the Fourth Energy Transition
  • The Evolution of Modern German Christian Democracy
  • The Monarchies of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia
Submit an Article
The Editorial Board invites authors to write analytical articles on the following topics:
  • changes in the processes of globalization in modern conditions
  • formation of the new world order
  • shifts in civilization at the stage of transition to a digital society

The editors are also interested in publishing synthesis articles / scientific reviews revealing the main trends in the development of certain regions of the world - Latin America, Africa, South Asia, etc.