Religious Gerrymandering and Party coalitions, not just Party-line Voting

Past gerrymandering has benefited the Republican Party, but has also left them with some vulnerabilities. In a big hurricane year like 2006, their 55-45 levees were just a little too low, and they lost bigger than expected. Obviously the disaster of Iraq and the failure of George Bush had a lot to do with the losses. The sub-plot is the shift of Independents and moderate Republicans to the Democrats, which has thrown a monkey wrench into traditional patterns of Gerrymandered seats.

Simply looking at Dem vs Rep voting results by district is insufficient for predicting voting patterns. Better understanding results by looking at how the Parties' coalitions and demographics are distributed by district. In other words, looking at the cross-tabs in each the district is essential to understanding why the Republicans lost in 2006, what to expect in 2008, and what strategies to use for redistricting the next time around. More than that, it helps understand the ideological trends as well.

The dominance of the Religious Right in the Republican party is a result of two things: (1) Slow changes in the  Republican coalitions, and (2) Uneven distribution of the religious right portion of the coalition.

Right-wing Religious Gerrymandering? Collapse of the traditional Republican Party

Republicans continued to win in areas that contain a high percentage of their base, specifically districts with a large number of Religious Right voters, but they lost where their right-wing base was spread thin. This is more than a simplistic observation, if we have a better understanding of slow changes in demographics or ideology over the past six years, and how they are distributed geographically. For example, what if we knew the percentage of Religious Right in each district in the country and the percentage of traditional moderate republicans? That would show us the big fat fault-line between the extremist and moderate split of the Republican Party.

Ideology and party identification change slowly. Since the 2000 & 2004 elections, we have started to see a big shift to the Democrats in a number of states where the moderate Republicans have become fed up with or even purged by the religious right. But, this has happened only because the concentration of Religious right in certain states or districts within each state has allowed the extremists to be ascendent. If the religious right were spread out evenly, the traditional Republican Party could continue to hold the reins of the beast, knowing that the base would dutifully carry them each election.

We could call this the Colorado Model. 

In Colorado this religious-right Gerrymandering has happened by chance due to demographics of the different districts. Up until the most recent elections, over the 20 years from 1980 - 2000 the state has had a fairly red voting record. Historically, traditional chamber-of-commerce republicans, sided with the anti-tax, anti-government extremists. With the ascendency of the religious right, the coalition slowly changed character. Today, the establishment of the party seems to have lost almost all control over the candidate selection process.

With a strong base in CD-05 (Colorado Springs), CD-06 (Wealthy South Suburbs of Denver), and partially in CD-04 (Marilyn Musgrave), the extremists have come to dominate the GOP, and extend the control across the state. This control has enabled them to purge the moderate wing within the Party, as well as encourage a long-term shift of moderate Republican voters to the Democratic Party. CD-05 in Colorado Springs is famous for a lot of Conservative, retired military combined with a kind of religious exodus, think Focus on the Family, Dobson and Haggard.

The moderate Republican shift to the Democrats has been visible in several areas.

(1) Western Suburbs of Denver which have historically been red, have become increasingly purple. This has had a big consequence in state house seats and for CD-07 which when drawn was approximately evenly 33% each for the Dems, Reps and Indies.

(2) CD-04 (Musgrave) in the Northern part of Colorado has seen a lot of population growth, consisting of high-tech workers, exurban and suburban families. Economically this has been similar to the growth in Colorado Springs, but registration is 5 pts less Republican than CD-05. As a very Conservative Republican Musgrave has managed to hang on. However, the district has voted 10 pts more Dem than the partisan registration, as the Democrats continue to run strong candidates.

We don't want to eradicate the "christianists" entirely (even if this would be possible), because they will continue to be a millstone around the neck of Republican Party, and serve to remind everybody of what the GOP stands for. Nor do we want to dilute them into a bunch of 55-45% districts where they would simply add to the long-term Republican base, instead it is better that they remain strong enough in a few districts to continue electing the odd wackos like Tancredo, and Lamborn.

In conclusion, we need to go beyond looking at redistricting based simply on Democratic vs Republican voting history. Instead, we need to look in more detail on the demographic and ideological make up of the districts.

Tags: Colorado, Gerrymandering, Party Coalitions, Redistricting, religious right (all tags)

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