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“You’re not going to change the demographic and political culture of Illinois just by changing the lines”

Wednesday, Aug 30, 2017 - Posted by Rich Miller

* The Better Government Association has really upped its game lately, smashing or at least challenging some commonly held notions rather than reinforcing them with click-bait pieces. Its latest is a must-read

In one of those perverse twists of politics, Illinois Republicans hoping to whittle away at Democratic control of Springfield are looking for salvation in an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case that could undermine GOP might in Wisconsin.

At issue is what could shape up to be a landmark decision on political gerrymandering, a widespread practice dating to the early 19th century in which powerbrokers draw the boundaries of election districts to manipulate the outcome of legislative races.

But a BGA analysis of the statistical underpinnings of the Wisconsin case suggests the Republican minority in Illinois may want to hold off on breaking out the champagne, even if the high court rules against their brethren to the north.

In short, the Justices are being asked to sign off on a lower court ruling that the GOP-controlled Republican legislature in Wisconsin diluted Democratic voting power with surgical precision in drawing a map of new legislative districts after the 2010 Census.

The same calculus used to make that argument for Wisconsin suggests gerrymandering in Illinois is tepid by comparison.

That conclusion flies in the face of the deeply held conviction among many Republicans that mapmaking foul play is the prime reason why powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and fellow Democrats have for years remained firmly in control of both the Illinois House and Senate.

To be sure, the analysis of Illinois voting data in no way suggests that majority Democrats who drew the latest legislative maps here did so without putting a thumb on the scale. But the data points to the prime motivation being the protection of incumbents, be they Democrats or Republicans, and a variant of manipulation that the Supreme Court is not being asked to weigh in on.

In recent election cycles, more than 90 percent of races for the Illinois House were either uncontested or involved only token challenges to an incumbent. That phenomenon benefits Democrats in the Chicago area, where the bulk of the state’s population resides, and Republicans Downstate.

“Illinois is really screwed up, but it’s not as screwed up as Wisconsin,” said Cynthia Canary, the former executive director of Change Illinois, which pushed to get a redistricting reform proposal on the November 2016 ballot, only to see it blocked by the Illinois Supreme Court. “There’s a multitude of factors that come into play.”

One of those factors also lies at the heart of the Wisconsin case before the Supreme Court. It is a mathematical formula known as the “efficiency gap,” a measurement of vote distribution developed by Nicholas Stephanopoulos, an assistant professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California.

Designed to determine whether gerrymandering has enabled one political party to unduly extend its power, the formula compares the difference in so-called wasted votes—either those cast for a losing candidate or those cast for the victor in excess of what was needed to win. The election favors the party with fewer wasted votes, Stephanopoulos and McGhee wrote.

Because each legislative district represents roughly the same number of voters, the calculation can be simplified: The efficiency gap is the difference between the share of seats a party actually wins and the share it should be projected to win based on the average district vote in such contests.

Or mathematically expressed: Efficiency Gap = Actual Seat Share - Projected Seat Share, where Projected Seat Share = 0.5 + 2 × (Vote Share - 0.5)

For example, if the vote math projects that Republicans should win 50 seats in a 100 seat chamber and in reality they snag 57, the efficiency gap is then 7 percent.

Simon Jackman, a professor of political science at Stanford University, analyzed the Wisconsin legislative districts. In his 2015 report, a copy of which was submitted into evidence in the court case, Jackman said the state’s plan drawn by majority Republicans “presents overwhelming evidence of being a pro-Republican gerrymander.”

The efficiency gap for the 2012 and 2014 elections in Wisconsin, the first carried out under the new Republican drawn map, was far greater than the efficiency gap measured in Illinois over the same period.

Prior to the remap, the 99-seat Wisconsin Assembly had 52 Republicans and 47 Democrats. After the remap in 2012, the Republican edge grew to 60 to 38, with one independent.

A host of variables can affect the outcome of individual political races—money, media strategy, name recognition, issues and personalities. In virtually every election there will be some divergence between the share of legislative seats a party wins and the share its collective vote totals indicate it should win.

So Stephanopoulous and McGhee propose an efficiency gap threshold of 8 percent for state house plans. Any map beyond that threshold deserves close scrutiny—including the 2012 maps for Wisconsin, Ohio and Indiana, but not Illinois, according to BGA analysis.

While the Supreme Court’s decision to hear the Wisconsin case has raised hopes that it might provide some legal guidance or clarity in legislative map-making, history suggests there are good reasons to keep expectations in check. The court has shown itself to be more comfortable dealing with racial and voting rights challenges to redistricting, but reluctant to venture into the tricky waters of gerrymandering for purely political ends.

However the ruling comes out, it is likely to attract attention far beyond the political map in Wisconsin. A recent analysis by the Associated Press of the effects of redistricting in hundreds of congressional and state legislative races showed Republicans had a clear advantage in traditional battleground states such as Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, where political districts were drawn by Republicans after the 2010 census.

If the decision is upheld, that could directly affect the drawing of individual state political boundaries after the 2020 Census is completed—or not. It’s difficult to speculate on the possible impact of the Supreme Court’s decision, Canary said, stressing that it could be crafted to apply broadly or written narrowly to just impact Wisconsin. And there’s always the possibility as well that the court could overturn the lower court ruling, effectively siding with the status quo and giving the green light to politically motivated gerrymanders.

Whatever the court rules will be thrust, for Illinois, into the political reality of Democratic Party dominance, especially in the metropolitan Chicago area. The party’s advantage may have less to do with lines on a map than with voter behavior that increasingly defines the state as a Democratic Party behemoth in the mold of New York and California.

“You’re not going to change the demographic and political culture of Illinois just by changing the lines,” said David Yepsen, the former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

While all the Midwestern states surrounding Illinois went for Republican Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election—some by double-digit margins—Hillary Clinton carried the Prairie State by almost 17 percentage points.

Clinton prevailed in all but one of the six counties that make up metro Chicago, grabbing 58 percent of the combined vote. Meanwhile, Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Tammy Duckworth trounced Republican incumbent Mark Kirk by 15 percentage points.

The political might of Chicago and the surrounding counties holds huge sway over the remainder of Illinois. Sixty-three percent of the votes cast in the 2016 election came from metro Chicago. No other Midwestern state in the area has a metropolitan area with comparable political influence, and the Chicago region—not just the city itself—is tacking ever more Democratic.

That reflects a national urban-rural divide, where Democratic candidates draw from major population centers while Republicans like Trump, draw from rural and small town America.

The disadvantage to Illinois Republicans is that the vast majority of Downstate counties are losing population while Chicago and its environs become a “super urban metro area,” said Charles Franklin, a professor of law and public policy at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.

“It’s hard to design districts that break into that urban bloc, that shatter that large population,” Franklin said.

The degree of the partisan benefit from district maps is in dispute. Jackman found that President Obama won 53.5 percent of the two-party Wisconsin presidential vote in 2012, yet Democrats won only 39.4 percent of that state’s 99-seat legislature.

By contrast in Illinois, the share of state house seats won by Democrats roughly mirrored the share of the presidential vote that Obama got that year. Obama captured nearly 58 percent of the Illinois vote in 2012 and Democrats won 60 percent of house seats.

By the 2014 elections, according to a study done by Canary and University of Illinois Springfield political scientist Kent Redfield, “partisan bias” in the legislative maps was more clearly benefiting Democrats.

All 118 seats in the house were up for election that year and the combined votes cast in those races was almost evenly split between Republican and Democratic candidates, Redfield and Canary noted in a report released in 2015. Even so, Democrats won 71 house seats to 47 for Republicans.

Political partisans—usually those out of power—have complained about gerrymandering since the early 19th century, after a salamander-shaped district was part of a mapping plan approved by then Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry. Complaints have been remarkably consistent.

“It is an elaborate and rigged system that is failing the people of Illinois. It only works for the political insiders,” complained Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose agenda has run into a brick wall of resistance from legislative Democrats.

What redistricting has clearly done in Illinois is preserve the careers of incumbents of both parties. That report by Canary and Redfield found that from 1992 through 2014 the percentage of uncontested or non-competitive primaries in both parties ranged between 85 percent to 95 percent in state House races.

“The problem is we’re not looking at maps drawn to represent neighborhoods or communities but to protect incumbents and still be in compliance with the Voting Rights Act,” Canary said. “Protecting incumbency has been the dominant imperative.”

For Illinois Republicans, a decision in the Wisconsin case holds the potential of being unsatisfactory, regardless of the outcome.

If the high court affirms the federal panel’s decision, it could have a significant impact on Wisconsin, and perhaps several other states with maps skewed to favor Republicans, while leaving Illinois unaffected. That would be because Illinois maps appear less partisan according to the standard under court review.

And if the court decides to leave the Wisconsin map in place, the status quo would also be preserved in Illinois.

“There are a lot of expectations, but this is not likely to be a solution necessarily writ large across the board,” Canary said. Depending on the outcome of the case, she said, it could encourage lawsuits in other states alleging improper political gerrymandering.

“But it won’t turn Democrats into Republicans and Republicans into Democrats,” Canary said.


  1. - Norseman - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 11:44 am:

    Very nice. Keep this up and BGA may regain my respect for their work.

  2. - Amalia - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 11:55 am:

    there’s a whole study on Florida that disproves the notion that if they just had computer drawn lines the Dems would do better. It’s not as simple as it seems.

  3. - AuH20 - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:00 pm:

    ==there’s a whole study on Florida that disproves the notion that if they just had computer drawn lines the Dems would do better. It’s not as simple as it seems.

    Would be very interested in seeing this study.

    Did it also consider the California system (nonpartisan redistricting that aims to put similar constituencies in a single district)?

  4. - Chuckee Baby - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:04 pm:

    So….Mike Madigan and his minions can’t gerrymander Illinois as good as those darn Republicans gerrymander in Wisconsin?

  5. - Ghost - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:04 pm:

    A portion of IL gerrymandering is creating minority majorities. good article, even if it is more then a page and has no bullet points.

  6. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:10 pm:

    ===Mike Madigan and his minions can’t gerrymander Illinois as good as those darn Republicans gerrymander in Wisconsin?===

    Did you miss the dual-chamber Veto-Proof majorities?

    There’s a subtle art, within the guidelines of racial representative equality, that has a map seemingly “fair” within the guidelines and allows one side to wrest control as a majority.

    Madigan also won 4 of 5 contests with, arguably, a GOP map, tilting heavier in the Senate, but a GOP map all the same.

    It’s easier to see “packed” districts as bad then to see comparatively “competitive” districts but lose because the demographics or party loyalties change or grow fit one side over another.

    That’s part and parcel of what happened to Lee A. Daniels, a map became short sided to trends that may impact later races, just in the House portion… and Madigan proved that to be correct.

  7. - @MisterJayEm - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:14 pm:

    “The political might of Chicago and the surrounding counties holds huge sway over the remainder of Illinois.”

    “Chicago and the surrounding counties” account for two-thirds of the state’s population.

    – MrJM

  8. - Hamlet's Ghost - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:16 pm:

    == The same calculus used to make that argument for Wisconsin suggests gerrymandering in Illinois is tepid by comparison. ==


    IIRC, in 2012 the WI GOP managed to win 2/3rds of the WI state legislative seats with less than 50% of the total vote cast in legislative races.

    Madigan’s map isn’t even close to being in that league.

  9. - JB13 - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:18 pm:

    You know, there’s a simple way to prove all of this. Be an example to those “criminal gerrymanderers” out there: Surrender control of the map. Let an independent agency draw it based on science, math and geography, not politics. Until Madigan is forced to let go (and yes, Madigan does actually control the legislative maps and has masterminded the legal efforts to shut down gerrymander reform) I won’t believe that Democrats in this state believe the claptrap that the near supermajority in the General Assembly is the result of mere “demographic and political culture.”

    My longstanding belief: Illinois is a majority Democratic state. But it’s not a supermajority, in which Republicans are all but irrelevant. Not yet, anyway.

  10. - RNUG - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:49 pm:

    Looked at nationally, I’ve always believed Illinois is the 3rd most liberal / Democratic state behind New York and California (even if we do tend to lag those states by a few years) and that it was due to the metro Chicago and metro East St. Louis areas. Like others stated, I also believed it was mostly due to different urban and rural demographics. Sounds like this mostly reinforces my belief.

    When you start with that kind of advantage, you don’t have to do much gerrymandering to get and maintain an edge.

    As others have maintained, Quinn’s 1980 (I think) Legislative Cutback amendment probably enabled the more divisive result we see in Illinois today.

  11. - Chicagonk - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:51 pm:

    If we really wanted to reform state elections, we should reform ballot access laws to make it easier for people to run for office. The filing date in this state is way too early and the signature requirements are overly burdensome.

  12. - ZC - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 12:53 pm:

    Yes the IL map is way more “efficient” using this criterion because Dems aren’t super-packed. Difficult to make the case that under this def IL is really that gerrymandered.

    And Republicans in IL need to worry less about the map and more about appealing to Latinos / Hispanics. The big difference between IL and the rest of the Midwest is the substantially bigger Latino population here.

    Unfortunately that won’t be easy with Trump poisoning the GOP brand from above.

  13. - Arizona Bob - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:02 pm:

    In the long run, it doesn’t matter. Madigan and Cullerton are well known for protecting “flexible” GOP pol’s boundaries as well as Dems’. AS I’ve been saying for years, the root cause of the problems in Illinois is voters quite willing to support corruption and piracy of public funds from the public interest. I don’t see that changing anytime soon as the professionals, high tech grads and entrepreneurs continue their exodus from the state, and the low income entitlement classes swarm in.

  14. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:06 pm:

    Once again, by a nonpartisan metric, Illinois is not “the worst”, not even close. True for most complaints about the state.

  15. - Lucky Pierre - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:12 pm:

    Complete nonsense. A Republican Governor won every county in the state except for the largest- Cook. Are we to believe these same voters would not elect more Republican legislators if their district was fairly drawn?

    One need only look back to the decade where Republicans drew the map and the Illinois has 10 consecutive years of Republican President Pate Phillip and Speaker Madigan lost his post for one term.

  16. - Father Ted - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:12 pm:

    “The Better Government Association has really upped its game lately”

    Agreed- credit where credit is due. Some people who ruled from the bully pulpit have been replaced with good reporters more in tune with the organization’s mission. It’s a good change; the endless lists of public employees who earn over $100K was lazy and had become stale.

  17. - Rich Miller - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:17 pm:

    ===Are we to believe these same voters would not elect more Republican legislators if their district was fairly drawn?===

    Keep in mind that Democrats Frerichs, L Madigan and Jesse White also won statewide that year. People split their tickets, often going with familiar names.

  18. - jim - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:41 pm:

    that reporting is not new at all. Illinois would not be affected by a high court ruling striking down the politically motivated Wisconsin maps.
    so, in that respect, the case is useless. because if gerrymandering really is supposed to be unconstitutional, giving Madigan a pass would make it, in effect, constitutional. that’s a really disappointing aspect of the wisconsin case.

  19. - Hamlet's Ghost - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 1:54 pm:

    There are relatively few states with Democratic tilted gerrymanders - IL is modestly tilted blue, Maryland a little more so.

    There are many states with strong GOP tilted gerrymanders including WI, MI, IN, OH, NC, VA, PA & TX

  20. - My button is broke... - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:00 pm:

    I have always been opposed to the independent commission making the map, mainly because both sides would attempt to infiltrate the commission. This is a quote from a NPR piece today on NC’s new state map.

    Republican state Sen. Ralph Hise, who chairs the state Senate’s redistricting committee, said he neither believed in unicorns nor the “mythical” nonpartisan redistricting commission.

  21. - My button is broke... - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:07 pm:

    Lucky - In 2014, Governor Rauner won 69 of the 118 House districts. Yet House Dems won 71 of the 118 races. So in at least 22 House districts, Rauner won, but a Dem Rep was elected. Go figure.

  22. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:13 pm:

    I give Madeleine Doubek all the credit for this. A smart grown up running the policy shop over there. Well done.

  23. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:15 pm:

    And LP, as usual, doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The Rs drew the map yet were only in charge of the House for two lousy years. And while Pate was in charge of the Senate, IL was still shifting from Red to Blue. Remember we had 26 consecutive years of GOP governors.

  24. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:17 pm:

    ===Complete nonsense. A Republican Governor won every county in the state except for the largest- Cook.===

    For the 3,816th time.

    Counties don’t vote. People vote.

  25. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:33 pm:

    ‘’”credit where credit’s due”"

    I’m guessing Madeleine Doubek has raised the bar at BGA

  26. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 2:58 pm:

    Arizona Bob: Two points:
    Illinois is one of the best, hottest states for high tech and other start ups in the country. It is mature businesses where we must do better.

    Your words “the low income entitlement classes swarm in” made me laugh out loud. Exactly what alt-state are you enjoying?

  27. - NeverPoliticallyCorrect - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 3:47 pm:

    Say what you will but who has fought the hardest to prevent changing the way the districts are drawn, it’s the Dems. Why, because they know they have the most to lose. The lines in chicago are a Gerrymanders dream. You have congressional districts running down North Ave. so that you can have a Hispanic district. When Mike Madigan starts promoting a bi-partisan commission to draw districts I start believing they don’t matter.

  28. - Archpundit - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 3:57 pm:

    Credit to them for going to real experts too. Jackman is a renowned methodologist in polisci and Franklin is great. I have to say that because he trained me, but he is great.

  29. - walker - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 4:35 pm:

    NPC: Of course they matter, just not as much as many assume they matter.

    A truly neutral map (if possible) might lead to a 3-4 seat change from the current Illinois system, not 10-12. It would benefit the political culture in two ways: a facile excuse would go away, and we would get some more competitive districts.

    Having several more competitive districts is a mixed blessing. We would have even more money and influence of money in politics. But we would also have more people running, and more public faith in the system.

    All in all, a pretty good thing. Worth fighting for, but no silver bullet.

  30. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 4:45 pm:

    LP, what do counties have to do with anything?

    Corn may have ears, but it still can’t vote.

    My 4.6 square mile village has more people than 74 Illinois counties.

    It has more people than the nine smallest counties combined.

    It is one of 135 incorporated municipalities in Cook.

    So, again: what is your point about counties?

  31. - Norseman - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 5:19 pm:

    === Say what you will but who has fought the hardest to prevent changing the way the districts are drawn, it’s the Dems. Why, because they know they have the most to lose. ===

    The point was that the Dems have created a favorable map, but not an outrageously partisan one. I don’t believe this was the case out of concern for the GOP. They did the best they could.

    I’ve always agreed with Rich when he advocated for the Dems to accept a compromise to avoid disaster should they lose the ability to write the map. Certainly, the GOP will be as eager as the Dems to draw a map favoring their own interests. As you layed out, Madigan fought reform very hard. I thought this was risky on his part. Dem luck in winning the drawing has got to run out as some point. Upon considering this article, I suspect the Dems realize the demographics are such that the GOP can’t build a map that really harms them. (Remember, the map has to take into account minority districts.)

    We saw the last time the GOP drafted the map that they were only able to win both chambers for 2 out of the 10 years. I still think a remap compromise would be wise. But it’s their play and they seem comfortable with the data.

  32. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 5:19 pm:

    You have three all-suburban Congressional districts represented by Dems now. Foster(Naperville), Raja (Schaumburg), Schneider (Deerfield).

    If you can’t see the demographic change that represents, you’re blind.

  33. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 6:00 pm:

    –Your words “the low income entitlement classes swarm in” made me laugh out loud. Exactly what alt-state are you enjoying?–

    AZ Bob lives in a state that is uninhabitable without the original and continued massive investment by federal taxpayers to provide drinking water and power to sustain life.

    A state that is not able to produce the food necessary for its population’s survival and must import it and virtually all other goods and services from productive parts of the country and world.

    A state whose economy is primarily driven by the expenditures of tourists and retirees receiving government income and medical benefits.

    You know, those independent Westerners, who want gubmint off their back.

  34. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 7:08 pm:

    Word, Arizona has a respectable agricultural economy, producing approximately 25% of Illinois’ total (albeit with about half the population, so its per-capita output is about half of Illinois). Arizona produces the vast majority of the vegetables the rest of the country consumes during winter months. Is the state a net exporter or importer of calories? I couldn’t find that, but it does produce a lot of food. Water, obviously, is another matter, since without the Colorado and the Navajo pumping station, the output would be a small fraction of what it is today.

  35. - @MisterJayEm - Wednesday, Aug 30, 17 @ 7:57 pm:

    “Water, obviously, is another matter, since without the Colorado and the Navajo pumping station, the output would be a small fraction of what it is today.”

    And but for the money, I’d be a millionaire.

    – MrJM

  36. - Johnyy Justice - Thursday, Aug 31, 17 @ 10:15 am:

    To Chicagonk: You are right about improving ballot access. Signatures for Repubs & Dems are okay, but way to high and out of proportion with Rs & Ds for independents & 3rd parties. David Gill proved that in Federal Court. Filing dates are too early, but would have to set primary at a later date to make filing dates later…also a good idea!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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