New York Just Cost Democrats Their Big Redistricting Advantage

Don’t count your chickens before they hatch — and don’t count your congressional districts until all the district reelection lawsuits are complete.

On Wednesday the New York Court of Appeals reigns that the New York Democrats congressional card enacted in February was a partisan gerrymander who violated the state constitution and threw it on the curb. The decision was a major blow to Democrats, who until recently appeared to have won enough seats nationally to nearly eliminate Republican bias in the House of Representatives. But with the invalidation of the New York card, as well as the recent passage of a Florida convention card heavily pro-GOP, the takeaways from the 2021-22 redistribution cycle are no longer so simple.

That’s because much of the Democrats’ national redistributive advantage rested on their gerrymander in New York. The now invalid card contained 20 seats with a FiveThirtyEight partisan seat of D+5 or bluer and only four seats with a partisan seat of R+5 or redder. It also included two rocking seats, but even these had slight Democratic tilts (D+3 and D+4).

In other words, all else being equal, we would have expected Democrats to win 22 of the 26 seats in the New York House of Representatives (85 percent) under the map. But that’s out of proportion to how New York usually votes; For example, President Biden received only 61 percent of the vote there in 2020.

New York Just Cost Democrats Their Big Redistricting Advantage 2

Currently there is 19 Democrats and eight Republicans in the New York congressional delegation, so this map likely would have resulted in Democrats winning three House seats and Republicans losing four in the 2022 election, out of New York alone. (The map changed the 1st and 11th districts from light red to light blue, and also shifted the swing district, currently held by Republican Rep. John Katko, more toward Democratic territory. It also chose a Republican-held seat in upstate as New York District would lose in the 2020 census due to its relatively sluggish population growth.)

Those heady gains and losses were the basis for the big national gains that Democrats made about a month ago. As of March 30, eleven counties nationwide have been added to the Democratically Oriented (D+5 or bluer) column (compared to the maps that existed in 2020) and six counties have been subtracted from the Republican Oriented column (R+5 or redder). Today, however, Democrats are only seven districts up and Republicans aren’t down at all — in fact, they were added a Republican-leaning seat.

If that’s how it’s supposed to stay, and given what we’ve learned, we should not assume that will be the case — Democrats would still reduce House Republican bias (the House district at the tipping point in 2020 was almost 5 percentage points redder than the nation as a whole), but not by as much as previously expected.

However, thanks to the strong performance of the Democrats in the two previous general elections (2018 and 2020), many of these newly pro-democratic seats have already been (and will be) filled by Democrats. So if you’re only interested in the outcome of the 2022 election, it makes sense to also consider how many seats each party’s reallocation will allow tip. In March, the Democrats didn’t have that much of an advantage by that metric, but they still did better than the Republicans: I estimated at the time that a Democratic re-election would give the Democrats about two seats in the midterm, while it would result in one Net loss of around three or four seats for the Republicans (disregarding the Republican-leaning national political environment). Now, however, Republicans have a clear advantage in this regard. My guess is that the redistribution of constituencies currently positions the Republicans for a net gain of about four or five seats in the House of Representatives and the Democrats for a net loss of about four, based on the current maps.

So depending on whether you’re just measuring on partisan lean or considering which party currently holds each seat, you’ll get a different answer as to which party has benefited from this cycle’s reallocation. But don’t tie yourself in too many knots to pick a winner. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this cycle, it’s that nothing is final until the last card is dealt and the final litigation settled. There are still congressional tickets that could be struck down in court, like Florida’s. And there are still states that haven’t completed a map yet – like, oh yeah, New York!

In its ruling, the New York Circuit Court of Appeals supported the idea that a neutral special master — essentially an expert at drawing political maps — should draw New York’s next convention map. That would presumably make for a relatively fair map, but of course the details and exact factional breakdown are still a mystery; The Democrats could still eventually win seats from New York’s map (just not as many as from their Gerrymander). As a reminder, we’re analyzing and tracking newly proposed cards in real-time on our redistricting tracker, so keep an eye on the New York page for the latest developments.

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