Redistricting backgrounders – What have we learned?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve posted a ridiculous amount of research about the redistricting process here in Utah. What have we learned? Here’s the Cliff Notes version.

Looking back: How has Utah’s population grown since 2000?

  • Utah’s population is growing quickly, especially along the urbanized Wasatch Front.
  • To create a fourth U.S. House district, each existing district will lose 22-28% of its current population. The third district will shed the most people.

Looking back: Which counties will gain and lose seats in the Utah legislature?

  • The fastest-growing Utah House districts are in northern Utah County, the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley, and Davis County.
  • The fastest-shrinking Utah House districts are in the northern end of the Salt Lake Valley and in central Utah County (Provo/Orem).
  • Expect Salt Lake County to lose 3 Utah House seats; expect Utah and Davis Counties to claim them.

Looking back: Could Republicans win all four U.S. House districts?

  • During the 2000s, Utah shifted even further toward the GOP than in the 1990s.
  • With the state becoming more Republican, the legislature can almost certainly draw four Republican-majority U.S. House districts if it tries. Of course, that doesn’t mean Rep. Matheson won’t keep winning in one of them.

Looking back: Which counties have moved most to the right?

  • Between 1992 and 2008, every county but one (Kane) became more Republican. Many moved a LOT.
  • As of 2008, the least Republican county still gave 57% of its combined presidential/gubernatorial votes to Republicans.
  • Carbon County shifted from majority Democrat to majority Republican, a striking change.

Looking back: Will redistricting hurt Democrats in the state legislature?

  • Most Democratic-held legislative districts are underpopulated. Most Republican-held districts are overpopulated. That means Democratic districts are more likely to be merged, and Republican districts are more likely to be split.
  • Even without a partisan gerrymander, population change will cost Democrat 2 seats in the Utah House and 1 in the Senate.

Looking back: Will Hispanic growth affect redistricting?

  • There is a growing population of Hispanics in northern Salt Lake County. In Salt Lake City, South Salt Lake, Taylorsville, and West Valley City, Hispanics now constitute 19-33% of the total population.
  • The legislature needs to be careful not to disperse a concentrated minority population into several white-majority districts. Otherwise, the new map may face a lawsuit based on the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Looking back: Did the legislature gerrymander Matheson’s district in 2001?

  • It’s hard to say. It does appear that Matheson’s new district was somewhat more Republican in 2004 than the old one had been in 2000. However, the difference is not large enough to say with certainty that a gerrymander occurred.
  • Matheson’s poor showing in the 2002 elections may have had more to do with the sudden influx of unfamiliar voters into his district than with a partisan gerrymander.

Looking back: Do single member districts hurt Democrats?

  • Yes. Single member districts tend to hurt minority parties. This is true in every state, not just Utah. But with a consistently large Republican majority among Utah voters, this consistently hurts Democrats.
  • In 2010, Democrats won 23% of the seats in the Utah House, even though they won 30% of the total votes in Utah House races statewide. However, this is not evidence of a partisan gerrymander. The nature of a single-member district electoral system is that the majority vote winner tends to win far more seats than votes.

Looking back: How badly were legislative districts gerrymandered in 2001?

  • In Utah County, 20% of the votes cast in the 12 Utah House races held in 2010 went to Democratic candidates, but Democrats won 0% of the county’s races. This is not the result of a gerrymander; it is the result of an unfortunate distribution of Democratic votes around the county. Democrats are not concentrated enough to win any seats in Utah County, no matter how the maps are drawn.
  • In Salt Lake County, 45% of the votes cast in the 31 Utah House races went to Democratic candidates, but Democrats won 52% of the seats. This is definitely not the result of a Republican gerrymander, since it favors Democrats. Instead, it results from a better distribution of Democratic votes around the county.
  • Both counties have a disconnect between how many voters support Democrats and how many seats Democrats win. In both counties, the disconnect is caused less by a gerrymander than by single member districts.

That’s just a bullet point summary. Click one of the links above for greater detail.

I have not written this series of posts with any particular partisan goal. My goal is simply to examine the data and see where it takes me. Some of these posts support Republican talking points; others support Democratic talking points.I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading all these posts as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them.

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About Adam Brown

Adam Brown is an associate professor of political science at Brigham Young University and a research fellow with the Center for the Study of Elections and Democracy. You can learn more about him at his website.
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