Wisconsin Republican Gerrymander ARRRGH!
Let's say you have a state where the party breakdown is roughly half Democrats and half Republicans. A little less, since you always have your minor parties and unaffiliated voters. But in Wisconsin, the parties are pretty much equal, and in actual voting, the outcomes are often really close to 50 percent. In 2016, Donald Trump won the state by eight tenths of a percentage point, and in 2020, Joe Biden won by six tenths of a point.
Yeah, you see where this is going.
Wisconsin's state legislature doesn't reflect that 50-50 split even a little bit. After the 2010 Census, the Republicans who held a majority in the state legislature drew new election districts that gave Republicans a lopsided majority. Then, this year, that already skewed majority drew up new maps that ensured an even larger advantage for Republicans. Recently, the state Supreme Court upheld the Republican-dominated legislature's district maps, which means that in a 50-50 state, Republicans have engineered a supermajority of votes in the state Senate, and are just one seat short of a supermajority in the state Assembly. Good luck to any Democratic governor who wants to veto bills coming out of the permanent Republican legislature!
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel columnist and Marquette University prof Craig Gilbert says this makes forecasting the results of November's general election super easy, although Gilbert doesn't seem too happy that Republicans have made that part of his job so uncomplicated.
Republicans will win 63 of the state’s 99 Assembly seats this fall (give or take a seat).
This prediction isn’t based on deep reporting, inside knowledge or public and private polling. It isn’t based on a detailed analysis of who’s running against whom and how much money they’re raising.
In fact, I’m betting that the actual campaigns the candidates wage won’t matter very much. I’m betting that the political climate this fall won’t matter much either.
Thanks to the Republicans in the state legislature, there's almost no point in holding the elections at all, except to put an official stamp on the GOP majority. Talk about efficient! As Gilbert puts it, "the map is the election, and the election is an afterthought."
Not only do the maps ensure Republican control of the legislature, they also absolutely preclude any chance that Democrats can win either house. The only uncertainty is how big the GOP majority will be.
To win the Assembly, Democrats would have to win all 36 Democratic-leaning seats plus at least 14 seats that lean Republican in their makeup, including nine seats that have at least a 5-point GOP lean, four seats that have at least 10-point GOP lean and one seat that has a 12-point GOP lean.
On paper, that would require a double-digit statewide swing toward Democrats. Neither party has won a governor’s race in Wisconsin by double digits since the 1990s.
The odds are even longer in the state Senate, where Dems would need to win seven Republican-leaning seats, of which five have a built-in five-point GOP advantage, and one has a 10-point Republican majority before a single vote is cast. As a result, Gilbert notes,
Republicans could suffer their worst election cycle in more than a decade, get blown out at the top of the ticket by 8 or 9 points, and still expect to keep control of the Legislature.
Clearly, democracy is far too important to be left up to the voters.
The maps also virtually eliminate swing districts, because again, why leave anything to chance? All but 14 of the 99 Assembly districts have at least a 10-point partisan advantage. Gilbert notes that's far worse than the already terrible 2010 gerrymander, which had 21, and the prior map, which allowed 40 such relatively competitive districts. (For real competition, the new map only has seven districts with less than a five-percent advantage. The 2010 map had nine, and the pre-gerrymandered map had 20.)
The state Senate is likewise noncompetitive:
Of the 33 state Senate districts, only seven have a partisan lean of under 10 points, compared to eight under the previous map and around 15 under the map before that.
And only two have a partisan lean of under 5 points, compared to three under the previous map, and 7 or 8 under the map before that. There is only one state Senate district that has a partisan lean of under 4 points.
Again: Why bother with elections at all?
Also, while gerrymandering is the chief reason for Wisconsin's partisan skew, Gilbert points out there are some demographic shifts at work here, too:
Communities have become more one-sided politically, making it harder to draw competitive seats. Voters have become more partisan in their voting behavior, making it less likely for a district that leans toward one party to ever vote for the other party.
And the growing urban-rural divide (including the decline of Democratic support in rural areas) has disadvantaged Democrats and advantaged Republicans in district-based elections since Democratic voters are more geographically concentrated, especially around Milwaukee and Madison. That confines their voting power to fewer districts.
That means that even without gerrymandering, Republicans would have a stronger overall chance of holding the legislature, not that they're inclined to leave it up to voters. The upshot is depressing as fuck, unless you're a big fan of one-party rule:
Wisconsin is a 50/50 state with almost no 50/50 legislative districts. It is a place where the two major parties trade victories for U.S. Senate, governor and president, yet one party has an unshakeable grip on the Legislature.
It is a place where statewide contests are more suspenseful than almost anywhere in America, yet legislative elections are — by design — largely over before they’ve begun.
We have little doubt that Wisconsin Republicans are hard at work to take the suspense out of statewide elections too. They may not be any good at governing, but Republicans have a real knack for preventing democracy from breaking out.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.