The dust from the presidential election hasn’t even settled yet, but the American political parties are already setting their eyes on the next elections, the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential election. That is not unusual in US politics, but this time around there is a particularly big reason why both parties will be investing a lot into state-level campaigns over the next four years and it’s not Donald Trump. It’s the redistricting that will happen for the House of Representatives after the 2020 elections.
The House of Representatives is elected by single member congressional districts in the states. Those districts are generally redrawn every ten years after the census when states are notified of how many seats they will have in the House of Representatives, a process call apportionment. At that point, each state redraws their congressional districts according to their own rules, which is called redistricting.
Some states use independent commissions or advisory commissions, and seven states have just one representative and so don’t have redistricting. But in most states, redistricting is done by the state legislature which passes the new boundaries like a normal law. That law is then signed by the governor. This means in practice that about every ten years the state legislatures and governors are extremely important for the balance of power in the House of Representatives, if the parties pay attention to them.
The Wisconsin State Capitol, which houses the Wisconsin legislature, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Office of the Governor [Vijay Kumar Koulampet, CC]
In 2010, the Republican Party invested in a project called the Redistricting Majority Project (REDMAP). The project targeted state legislative seats held by Democrats that were vulnerable, and which usually receive very little attention, with the goal of taking control of a number of state legislatures. Thanks to the project, and a strong election year for Republicans generally, the party was able to then redraw the districts in ways that were favorable to the Republican Party in more states than the Democrats, who did the same thing in the states in which they had control.
As a result, along with other factors like demographic sorting, the Republican Party has an inbuilt advantage in the House of Representatives. This advantage has made it basically impossible for Democrats to win control of the House since 2010. Even if 2016 had been a wave year for Democrats – and it wasn’t – the House was safely in Republican hands. The same will likely be the case in 2018 and 2020.
That means that Democrats will try to aggressively go after governor and state legislature elections in both 2018 and 2020, in the hopes of being in a position to reverse the 2010 redistricting that heavily favored Republicans. President Barack Obama already announced that he will spearhead the effort together with former Attorney General Eric Holder.
The Republican Party meanwhile also launched REDMAP 2020, even before the presidential election this year. The party has pledged to invest at least $125 million into the effort, although that could dramatically increase if Democrats get serious about their countering efforts.
That means that the 2018 and 2020 campaigns start now.
By Alex Lange, JKL Political Analyst