Your Electoral Update For The Day, Nuclear Gerrymandering Edition

January 19, 2013, 3:30 am

The GOP, coming off a substantial defeat in the 2012 election and facing difficult demographic trends, is looking to eke out every last electoral vote they can. The latest strategy is to take advantage of blue states where the GOP nonetheless controls the state government. In Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin, GOP governors and legislatures are putting forward or discussing laws that would split each state’s electoral vote proportional to the votes won by each candidate. In Pennsylvania, for example, Obama got 52% and Romney 47%. In the current system, that meant that Obama got all 20 of Pennsylvania’s electoral votes. In a revised system where the split was strictly by percentage, each candidate would end up with 10 EVs and if the GOP awarded them by Congressional district, as Maine and Nebraska do, Romney might have ended up with *more* EVs in PA than Obama did.

This is, of course, completely legal. The Constitution explicitly leaves it to the state to decide how to apportion its electoral votes. From Article 2, Section 1:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress

But, of course, it might have dramatic effects on future Presidential elections. Suddenly, five states, three of which have been consistently blue and two of which seem to be trending that way, would go from giving all their EVs to the Democratic candidate to splitting them pretty evenly between the two, likely no matter how much spending either candidate did there. If all the states chose their electoral votes this way, it wouldn’t have the same effect, but with it only being blue (or purple) states, the effect is to gerrymander the Presidential race in such a way as to give the GOP an advantage.

Let’s take a look at the effect this would have had if it had been in play in 2012. Without those five states, the EV count is Obama 255, Romney 206:


The five states combined have 77 EVs and splitting those down the middle gives Obama 39 and Romney 38 (I gave the remainder EV to Obama). That takes the final vote count to:

Obama: 294
Romney: 244

Obama still wins, but it’s much closer.

If all the states awarded them by Congressional district then it gets more complicated. This is the breakdown of Representatives in the 113th Congress for the five states:

Virginia: 8 GOP, 3 DEM
Pennsylvania: 13 GOP, 5 DEM
Ohio: 12 GOP, 4 DEM
Michigan: 9 GOP, 5 DEM
Wisconsin: 5 GOP, 3 DEM

The total: 47 GOP, 20 DEM. Given that all those states voted Democratic in the Presidential election that imbalance is a remarkable statement about the power of gerrymandering, and the difficulty the Democrats have because their voters are concentrated in urban areas.

Assuming that some of those Congressional districts would have split their vote (i.e. vote for different parties at the House and Presidential level), and that this would have tended to disproportionately benefit Obama, I’m going to hand wave and say that the result would look like this:

Obama: 27 EVs
Romney: 40 EVs

Plus, of course, there are two “extra” EVs in each state (to count the Senators) and (again I’m assuming) those go to the overall state winner. So Obama would pick up another 10 votes, leading to the final count:

Obama: 37 EVs
Romney: 40 EVs

And the final overall count:

Obama: 292 EVs
Romney: 246 EVs

Obama still wins, but it’s even closer, though less so than I thought going into the calculation. In fact, I’m rather surprised by this result. The effect would not be to reverse either of Obama’s victories. It would make both of them closer, but the President would still win. Even giving Romney electoral votes in all 47 of the districts and the ten extras doesn’t reverse the election:

Obama: 275
Romney: 263

Having said that, the GOP strategy to win, given the new methods in those five states, would be to concentrate on Florida. If we go back to the count I came up with above (Obama 292, Romney 246) and switch Florida to the GOP camp (not implausible), that results in the following:

Obama: 263
Romney: 275

There you go. So, by neutralizing those five swing stages, and flipping Florida, a GOP candidate could pull it off. Of course, the Obama/Romney campaign was not a close one, in the end. In a tighter Presidential race, such a realignment might well swing the election towards the GOP candidate more easily (especially if the Supreme Court wasn’t available).

Some notes, by way of conclusion:

  • Such laws might benefit the national Republicans, but hurt the particular states. Those five states would lose all the money poured into them by Presidential campaigns every four years. There’s no point in advertising and spending heavily when the potential is only one or two more electoral votes.
  • This highlights the importance of non-Presidential, off-year, and local elections. 2010 gave the GOP control of a lot of statehouses just as it was time to redistrict, and they’ve taken (and are continuing) to take advantage of it.
  • I don’t know of any red state controlled by Democratic state politicians, who could do the reverse, but I haven’t really checked.
  • If all states apportioned their electoral votes according to percentage of the vote won, the final count in 2012 would have been (excluding third party candidates) Obama 276, Romney 262. That’s 51% of the EVs for Obama, slightly under his national vote share, likely because of the GOP advantage in small states. I couldn’t be bothered to figure it out by Congressional district.

So it’s certainly nuclear gerrymandering, but not thermonuclear gerrymandering. Still, it is always rewarding to see that the Republicans will do anything they can to avoid dealing with the actual issues confronting their party.

(H/T to for phrase “nuclear gerrymandering.”)

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