Politics

What 60 Years of Political Gerrymandering Looks Like

Texas state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay, File/AP)
Texas state Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa looks at maps on display prior to a Senate Redistricting committee hearing, in Austin, Texas. (Eric Gay, File/AP)

 

(The Washington Post) – Last week I wrote about the most gerrymandered congressional districts in the United States, as measured by how geometrically compact they are. I found that districts in some states are a bit of a hot mess, particularly in North Carolina and Maryland. The natural follow-up question: have they always been that way?

To answer that, I grabbed historic district “shapefiles” and did the same geometric analysis for a handful of states, going back to the 83rd Congress, which convened in 1953. In nearly every state, the average gerrymander index value — that is, the average of the gerrymander scores for all districts in a given state — has risen substantially since then.

The rise has been most dramatic in Pennsylvania and Ohio — presidential battleground states — as well as Illinois. Maryland and North Carolina are the two most gerrymandered states today, and while their numbers have remained consistently high, they’ve also shifted upward since the 1950s.

There are a number of confounding factors to consider here. The number of seats allocated to each state has changed over time, and state populations have risen as well. In areas with denser populations, it’s easier to come up with creative ways to draw districts.

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