A couple of days ago, I had a brief altercation with my father over the recently-proposed redistricting plan in Texas. Among other things, he claimed that the Republican-backed proposal was a “naked power grab” that clearly violated “the will of the people”. I’ve been thinking about those claims, and finally decided to put them to a rough empirical test.
My neutral hypothesis was that a fair districting division would result in each party holding a number of seats proportional to the overall percentage of the vote they received. If one party winds up holding substantially more seats than that, the districting is unfairly skewed to benefit them over their rivals.
The Texas Secretary of State has 2002 election result totals available on the web, so we can test this hypothesis. Slightly collapsed and added together, the 2002 results looked like this:
Net result — Republicans 53%, Democrats 44%, Other (mainly Libertarian and Green) 3%. Since there are currently 32 Congressional districts in Texas, the neutral hypothesis leads to the conclusion that a fair districting would lead to a seat distribution of 17 Republican, 14 Democrat and 1 Other.
If we drop the 3rd party vote totals and just consider the Republican vs. Democrat count, the results shift to 55% Republican and 45% Democrat, which means 18 seats for the Republicans and 14 for the Democrats.
The actual seat distribution that resulted from the 2002 election was 17 seats for the Democrats, and 15 for the Republicans. In other words, the current districting division is clearly skewed to favor the Democrats by 2 to 3 seats. The “will of the people” is clearly being frustrated by the current setup.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily prove that the Republican proposal is fair. Tom Delay’s comment that he wants the Republicans to have 20 seats implies, on the basis of the 2002 numbers, that the Republican plan is skewed to favor the Republicans by about the same extent that the current setup favors the Democrats. Still, in terms of “naked power grabs” and violation of the “will of the people”, the Republican plan seems no worse than the one it would have replaced. And that means the Texas Democratic representatives broke the law (yes, it is illegal in Texas for a representative to deliberately fail to appear in the statehouse for purposes of breaking a quorum) and shut down the legislature to avoid living under a proposed law that is simply the mirror image of the one they thought was just peachy when they were on the winning side.
And that, Dad, is why I think the Texas Democrats were throwing a snit and acting like crybabies because they couldn’t handle being on the losing side.
UPDATE: I did a little bit more digging. In the 1990 Texas redistricting, the Democrats controlled the legislature. The plan they came up with allowed them to capture 70% of the congressional seats in the state with only 50% of the vote — based on the current number of seats that would have been a 22-10 split favoring the Democrats when a fair division would have been 16-16.
I wonder if you found that as objectionable as the current Republican plan. My guess is no.