The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Saturday, May 14, 2005

Not a Massachusetts gerrymander after all?

A couple of days ago, I put my oar in over at MyDD on the question of which states' Democratic gerrymanders have survived.

I suggested that Massachusetts was one; which was countered with a suggestion that the GOP problem in MA was that its voters were too evenly spread out to make a majority in any of the ten districts apportioned to the state.

The presumption of gerrymander I arrive at on several grounds:
  1. the irregular shape of the most of the districts [1];

  2. the overwhelming Dem majority in both houses of the legislature; and

  3. the lack of a single Republican in the MA House delegation (it's the only one party state of comparable population).

But presumptions are made to be rebutted.

Now, so far as I can tell [2], there were no statewide races in MA last November except the presidential election, in which Bush took 37% of the vote to Kerry's 62% . Of the Congressional districts, all of which were defended by Democratic incumbents, four returned Dem members unopposed (1, 2, 8, 9) and no Republican ran in Frank's 4th District.

I've looked at the results for the 3rd and 6th Districts; it comes as a surprise (though to me alone, I'm sure) that Kerry ran well behind the Dem candidates for both districts [3]. Which, considering he's won four statewide elections in MA and represented the state in the Senate for twenty years, seems a particular disappointment. (Bush, as one can more readily understand, ran well ahead of the GOP candidates in these districts.)

Both registration details on the SOS site (37-13-49) and from the (much maligned) exit poll (39-16-44) show the MA electorate skewed much more in party allegiance than the presidential election vote would suggest, with the largest group unenrolled/independent. The largest GOP registration (analysed by county) is around 19% in Barnstable (against 27% registered Dems); Barnstable falls into the 10th District, which does, in fact, return the highest GOP score: 34%.

Historically, Massachusetts has had a number of safe Republican seats: for example, during the years of GOP Congressional near wipe-out in the first couple of terms of Franklin Roosevelt (the party lost 97 House seats in the 1932 elections (73rd Congress) and were down to 89 in the 75th), Districts 1, 4, 5, 6, 10, 13, 14 and 15 went consistently Republican.

The last of these to be lost to the GOP was the 1st District, long held by Silvio Conte, whose death in 1991 left the field open to the Dems. Two seats (the 3rd and 6th) were picked up by the GOP in 1992 [4], but lost again in 1996.

Only in governor's races have MA Republicans got any joy in recent years. A 2002 Harvard Political Review piece suggests that this has been from an aversion to a complete one-party state, and, in particular, such a state controlled by erstwhile House speaker Thomas Finneran [5].

Given the Dem majorities in the lege, plenty big enough to override any Mitt Romney veto on a party-line vote, I'm not clear how much diversity of power this ticket-splitting brings [6].

A comparable state (the closest I can manage on a cursory inspection) is Maryland: Kerry beat Bush 56-43, but, of the eight Congressional districts, the 1st and the 6th re-elected Republican incumbents by overwhelming majorities.

The 2004 registration stats (PDF - by county) show the D-R ratio at 55:29. In all of the largest counties bar one (Anne Arundel), Dems outnumber GOP by a wide margin: Anne Arundel is 136,000 Dems to 120,000 GOP. Both districts with GOP Congressmen include parts of that county. (The MD exit poll split 48-30-22: the proportion of independents is half that of the MA number, with both Dems and GOP around 10 points higher than in MA.)

Visually, several of the Maryland districts look gerrymandered to hell: the 2nd, 3rd and 4th are the worst. The 4th (Wynn) is one two seats held by black members - the relatively inoffensive 7th (Cummings) is the other.

The Dems have amply more than the three-fifths majorities in both houses of the lege necessary to override on a party-line vote any veto coming from GOP governor Robert Erlich [7].

So, the numbers are somewhat more favourable to the GOP in MD than in MA, but not overwhelmingly so; and yet 25% of the Maryland delegation is Republican.

There is no information on the MD SOS site sufficiently detailed to compare directly returns for the presidential and Congressional elections; it may be that there is a clear concentration of GOP voters not to be found in MA.

Or that MD Dems chose not to gerrymander as hard as they could.

For a decade up to 2002, there had been four GOP seats: Erlich had the 2nd District, and Connie Morella the 8th. In 2002, Erlich did not run, and Morella was defeated [8]. But MD was still a pretty Democratic state: Gore won it 57-40, and Clinton in 1996 54-38.

If Maryland can give the Republicans a bone or two, how come the Massachusetts House delegation is now hermetically sealed off from them?

(Why is the MA proportion of self-styled independents so high? The national exit poll put the split at 37-37-26: MA independents come in 18 points higher - nearly double the national average!

How much of this excess is Republicans too ashamed to admit the fact - the spiral of silence effect?)

Of course, there is software available - such as Maptitude (a snip at $7,500!) that would take the guesswork and speculation out of the thinly spread MA Republicans question.

I shan't be investing - so guesswork and speculation is what I'm left with...

  1. I discussed Barney Frank's physically, if not electorally, crooked Fourth District on April 11.

  2. The Massachusetts Secretary of State has a page with links to the official results.

  3. I had not realised when I started on the 3rd that one of the towns, Fall River, does not wholly fall within the 3rd. Excluding the Fall River numbers makes little difference to the general pattern.

  4. Both seats defended by incumbents - Early and Mavroules. The timing suggests that they were themselves victims of redistricting following the 1990 Census. I've no idea whether this is right.

  5. Who these days has troubles of his own - a possible perjury rap.

  6. In the votes used for calibration by Mass Scorecard, the words veto and override figure prominently!

  7. Erlich was the first GOP governor of the state since Spiro Agnew.

  8. I'm not sure whether their districts had been made less favourable by redistricting following the 2000 Census.


A gallimaufry of stats about the Bay State.

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