Hot off the heels of a successful 2020 house campaign, House Republicans see an electoral map tilted toward them in 2022 due to a successful 2020, President Trump’s ouster and a number of legislative victories down – ballot leaving them in control of or having the power to sway the decennial redrawing of district boundaries in redistricting.
Though polls showed House Republicans set to lose another dozen or so seats last month, the GOP flipped nearly a dozen seats held by Democratic incumbents (surprising considering it is harder to beat an incumbent than take an open seat). As a result of their losses, the Democratic margin of control is so close redistricting could effectively give the GOP control of the chamber before defeating a single incumbent or taking another seat in an election.
Though House Republicans have been the President’s biggest backers, his loss is their gain. Historically, the party which holds the White House has lost seats in midterms. This has held true since Reagan except for 1998 and 2002 when a unique series of circumstances drove the ultimate results.
Already, some of the contours of why Democrats may lose the majority under Biden are becoming clear. First – off, the President Elect has struggled to manage various factions during his transition. Secondly, wide – spread opposition to business and mask restrictions seems to be spreading nationally. Considering Democrats are largely seen as supportive of these measures they would be most likely to suffer a backlash.
That said, both parties begin the next electoral cycle playing on an uncertain battlefield. For one, in the coming months, legislatures and governors across the country will be discussing legislation redrawing federal and state district boundaries. Further, a number of quote non – partisan commissions will be playing political cartographer, haggling over political lines under tremendous political pressure while also attempting to adhere to various state and federal guidelines. For their part, both Republicans and Democrats will be looking to maximize their political advantage via gerrymandering.
However, the GOP begins with a clear edge, at least in the short – term. The success the GOP enjoyed in November has led them to have control of 4 times as many seats as Democrats. Further, the states which are expected to gain the most seats (Texas, Florida, etc.) remain dominated by the GOP.
Take the aforementioned Texas and Florida. Due to explosive population growth in Texas, the state could gain as many as four new seats. Even though much of this growth has come from blue – state residents turning traditionally red suburbs pink/purple, the GOP maintains control of the levers of power in the state. Florida could gain as many as three new seats, and the GOP will have complete control of the process – including a GOP dominated state supreme court who would interpret the maps adherence to a 2014 nonpartisan Constitutional Amendment.
By themselves, these two states could literally give the GOP all the seats it needs for a majority (though odds of drawing all gained seats in both states red are unlikely). Most Republicans don’t want a new majority to be based on maps alone. There are a number of variables involved in the process involving state rules, individual politics and the power incumbents play in the process cutting deals.
Plus, how both parties approach the process is unclear. Republicans, despite their gains, will be defending a number of vulnerable seats across the country and may want to fortify these members in places like Texas and Florida vs. drawing new red seats. Democrats are still reeling from last month and seem focused on the fact the Biden administration has now poached three members from their tenuous majority.
Democrats are optimistic Trump will not fade away quietly but continue to define the GOP. He might. But caution should be taken here. Trump will not directly impact state or federal district lines, and once out of power, his words will not make policy. Rather, the Biden administration’s and his team’s decisions will. Voters are likely to be swayed by the impacts on their daily lives vs. rhetoric. Then there is also the very real question of how realignment will impact the mapmaking process and whether gerrymanders drawn for 2022 will work out as intended. Take the cases of Virginia and Florida as examples.
In 2010 the GOP maintained control of both states. And while the party drew gerrymanders in each the net results were dramatically different. In Florida, the end result was a net change of zero seats between the parties over 10 years. But, in Virginia, what started out as a 7 -4 map for the GOP eventually turned into a 7 – 4 Democratic majority as the suburbs in NoVA and Central VA turned blue and liberal courts overturned the GOP maps on Voting Rights Act grounds.
But what is interesting is why these changes occurred. The GOP maintained its gerrymander in Florida due to winning over Cuban – Americans and Puerto Ricans while their gerrymander fell apart in VA largely to the loss of suburban whites. It was once assumed whites were solidly Republican while minorities voted blue. But, as elections have turned more and more on class and education these old assumptions are now being reconsidered. This will make it harder to draw gerrymanders one can be sure will last 10 years.
In any case, the GOP starts out with a solid chance of swinging the House in 2022. How long they would hold it after that is anybody’s guess.