Gerrymandering, geography, and competitiveness

This blog post continues the focus of the Law School’s Lubar Center on redistricting.

Many discussions of “gerrymandering” are hampered by an often unacknowledged tension between competing goals. Gerrymandering is classically defined as weirdly-drawn districts manipulated from some ideal (or “natural”) form so as to benefit a particular party or politician. In practice, people see evidence of gerrymandering when one party consistently wins a share of legislative districts in excess of its proportion of the overall vote.

Proponents of “fair maps” may be motivated by concern over a partisan imbalance, but they typically define “fairness” with regard to the first definition of gerrymandering. A fair map is one drawn without regard to political advantage. Instead, districts should follow the boundaries of existing communities where possible.

There’s the rub. Imagine if Wisconsin’s Constitution called for our decennial redistricting to be carried out by an alien species of mapmaking specialists who are unaware of the existence of Democrats or Republicans but are nonetheless imbued with a passion for compactness, contiguity, and the preservation of municipal boundaries. These extraterrestrial cartographers could provide us with thousands of maps to choose from, but probably every last one of them would still give Republicans a legislative majority when the statewide vote was a tie. The reason, as we shall see, is where partisans live and how they cluster together.

Continue ReadingGerrymandering, geography, and competitiveness

Milwaukee’s population loss in the 2020 Census surprised some, but makes sense on closer examination

The 2020 census found a population decline of 17,611 in the City of Milwaukee since 2010. This 3% population decline came as a surprise because it exceeded recent estimates based on other data. Some observers—most prominently from City Hall—have suggested the Census Bureau undercounted Milwaukee. This concern is worth taking seriously given the difficulties of the pandemic and the Trump administration’s ultimately unsuccessful but well-publicized efforts to include a question about citizenship on the census.

However, a careful consideration of the census data shows no real evidence for an undercount. On the contrary, the 2020 census count is consistent with long-observed facts about Milwaukee’s demographic trajectory and other, independent data sources.

A big reason why a shrinking population feels intuitively wrong to many Milwaukeeans is that some parts of the city really are growing—specifically the places people most often visit.

Continue ReadingMilwaukee’s population loss in the 2020 Census surprised some, but makes sense on closer examination

Liberals and conservatives both perceive the Supreme Court as acting against their preferences

The latest Marquette Law Poll found that approval of the U.S. Supreme Court fell by 11 percentage points from July to September. This change was driven by a 22-point decline among Democrats and a 10-point decline among Independents. Republican approval stayed about the same.

This follows the Court’s narrow September ruling declining to halt Texas’ ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. Other recent controversial decisions included striking down the CDC’s eviction moratorium and preventing the Biden administration from ending Trump’s “remain in Mexico” policy for asylum seekers.

Majorities of Republicans approved of all three of these decisions. Democrats disapproved of each, but more of them lacked an opinion about the CDC moratorium decision and the remain-in-Mexico decision.

Attitudes to Supreme Court decisions
Marquette Law School Supreme Court Poll, September 2021, n = 1,411
Heard nothing at all Heard of but not enough for an opinion Favor Oppose
End CDC moratorium
Republican 18% 20% 57% 5%
Independent 13% 34% 39% 14%
Democrat 17% 33% 22% 27%
Reinstate remain-in-Mexico policy
Republican 13% 8% 76% 2%
Independent 21% 24% 34% 20%
Democrat 14% 25% 17% 43%
Uphold 6-week abortion ban
Republican 11% 15% 57% 17%
Independent 10% 16% 27% 47%
Democrat 7% 12% 9% 71%

In light of this, it makes sense that Democratic approval of the court plummeted, but why didn’t Republican approval grow?

Continue ReadingLiberals and conservatives both perceive the Supreme Court as acting against their preferences