Pennsylvania 18th Congressional District: The Special Election

Today is Tuesday, 12 March. And that means a special election in the 18th congressional district of Pennsylvania, located in the far southwest of the state, near Pittsburgh.

Long story short, the district is uber Republican. But, the long-time Republican congressman, the avowedly pro-life type, was caught urging his mistress to abort their unborn child. Needless to say, that did not go over so well and so he resigned and now here we are with a veteran state legislator and veteran who calls himself “Trump before there was Trump” running for the Republicans and another veteran but also former federal prosecutor involved with fighting the opioid epidemic running for the Democrats.

Now about that uber Republican-ness. It is so much so that Democrats didn’t even run candidates in 2014 and 2016. And then in 2016, Trump won the district by 20 percentage points. But the polls show the Republican, Rick Saccone, with a very narrow lead within the margin of error. That in and of itself is tremendous news for Democrats in Pennsylvania. But what if Conor Lamb, the Democrat, were to actually somehow pull off a victory?

Well the Washington Post put together a great piece about how it really might not matter. Why? Because of that whole redistricting thing that I talked about. Neither Saccone nor Lamb live in the district that will replace today’s 18th.

The piece has several nice graphics showing just how much this area of the state will change and how that will impact these two candidates. But my favourite piece was actually this dot plot.

That's an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome
That’s an enormous gap for Lamb to overcome

It speaks more to today’s election than the future of the district. Everyone will undoubtedly be looking to see if Lamb can eke out a victory of Saccone this evening. But even if he loses narrowly, the Democrats can still take a glimmer of hope because of just how insurmountable the challenge was. It would require an enormous swing just to crack 50.1%.

Credit for the piece goes to Reuben Fischer-Baum and Kevin Uhrmacher.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part V

Yesterday we looked at the new congressional district map here in Pennsylvania, drawn up by the state supreme court after the Republican legislature and Democratic governor could not come to agreement.

Also yesterday, FiveThirtyEight explored the redrawn map in more detail to see if, as I’ve read in a few places, the new map is a Democratic gerrymander. In short, no. The article does a great job explaining how, basically, it might seem like it because more Democrats are predicted to be elected based on various models. But, that is only because the map was so extremely gerrymandered in the past that any effort to increase competitiveness or fairness would make Republicans more likely to lose seats.

This one table in particular does a nice job showing just how in an average election cycle there are only four seats that you could consider reliably Democratic whereas there are six that are reliably Republican. And keep in mind that Pennsylvania actually exhibits the reverse split—there are more Democrats than Republicans in the state. So even with this new map, the state exhibits a slight Republican bias.

Still favouring the Republicans
Still favouring the Republicans

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part IV

Yesterday the Pennsylvania Supreme Court published the new congressional district map of Pennsylvania, the latest chapter in this tale. Republicans in the state legislature have already said they will take this to the federal courts, but they tried that just a few weeks ago and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

So the Washington Post put together a map showing precinct-level data aggregated to the new borders and the result is a far more competitive map. Despite there being more Democrats in Pennsylvania, overall the map still remains leaning towards Republican, but there are more light blue and red, again meaning competitive, districts to be fought over.

Well now we have some sensible lines…
Well now we have some sensible lines…

I did hear on the radio this morning, however, that one implication will be in the new Pennsylvania 4th, which is comprised mainly of the Philadelphia suburban county of Montgomery. Right now, that area is so gerrymandered that there is not a candidate right now living with the new borders.

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post Wonkblog.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Part III

Almost a month ago I wrote about how the Pennsylvania Supreme Court was considering a case involving the state’s heavily gerrymandered US congressional districts, which some have called among the worst in the nation. About a week later the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that the map is in fact so gerrymandered it violates the Pennsylvania Constitution. It ordered the Republican-controlled legislature to create a new, non-gerrymandered map that would have to be approved by the Democratic governor. I did not write up that then Pennsylvanian Republicans appealed to the US Supreme Court—no graphics for that story. That appeal was rejected by Justice Alito, but with only days to spare the state legislature then created this new map and sent in this new one on Friday.

The proposed congressional districts, black lines, overlaid atop electoral precincts, the pretty colours.
The proposed congressional districts, black lines, overlaid atop electoral precincts, the pretty colours.

The problem, according to the governor and outside analysts, is that the map is just as gerrymandered as the previous one. Consequently, yesterday the governor rejected the new map and so now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, working with outside experts in political redistricting, will create a new congressional map for Pennsylvania. Hopefully before May when the state has its first primaries.

But just how do we know that the new map, despite looking different, was just as gerrymandered. Well, the Washington Post plotted the election margins for districts in 2016 using precinct data versus their proposed 2018 map overlaid atop those same precincts. What did they get? Almost identical results. The districts are no longer Goofy Kicking Donald Duck-esque, but they exhibit the same Republican bias of the previous map.

Trying to do the same thing to get a different or the same result?
Trying to do the same thing to get a different or the same result?

For the purposes of design, I probably would have dropped the “PA-” labels, as they are redundant since the whole plot examines Pennsylvania congressional districts. I think that, perhaps with a marker, and maybe a line of no-change would go a bit further in more clearly showing how the ultimately rejected map was nearly identical to its previous incarnation.

Credit for the map borders goes to the Pennsylvania state legislature, the version here to the Washington Post Wonkblog. All Wonkblog for the scatterplot.

Gerrymandering Again

The last two weeks we twice looked at gerrymandering as it in particular impacted Pennsylvania, notorious for its extreme gerrymandered districts. And now that the state will have to redraw districts to be less partisan, will Pennsylvania usher in a series of court orders from other state supreme courts, or even the federal Supreme Court, to create less partisan maps?

To that specific question, we do not know. But as we get ever closer to the 2020 Census that will lead to new maps in 2021, you can bet we will discuss gerrymandering as a country. Maybe to jumpstart that dialogue, we have a fantastic work by FiveThirtyEight, the Gerrymandering Project.

Since we focus on the data visualisation side of things, I want to draw your attention to the Atlas of Redistricting. This interactive piece features a map of House districts, by default the current map plan. The user can then toggle between different scenarios to see how those scenarios would adjust the Congressional map.

The setup today
The setup today

If, like me, you live in an area with lots of people in a small space, you might need to see Pennsylvania or New Jersey in detail. And by clicking on the state you can quickly see how the scenarios redraw districts and the probabilities of parties winning those seats. And at the bottom of the map is the set of all House seats colour-coded by the same chance of winning.

But what I really love about this piece is the separate article that goes into the different scenarios and walks the user through them, how they work, how they don’t work, and how difficult they would be to implement. It’s not exactly a quick read, but well worth it, especially with the map open in a separate tab/window.

Overall, a solid set of work from FiveThirtyEight diving deep into gerrymandering.

Credit for the piece goes to Aaron Bycoffe, Ella Koeze, David Wasserman and Julia Wolfe.

Gerrymandering Pennsylvania Followup

Remember how last week I wrote about gerrymandering in Pennsylvania? It was as the State Supreme Court was about to hear a case involving the partisan redistricting in 2011, widely perceived as one of the most egregious examples of gerrymandering in the nation. Well yesterday afternoon the State Supreme Court ruled that yes, Virginia, Pennsylvania was egregiously gerrymandered and the court ordered the state government to redraw the maps ahead of the 2018 midterms.

One of the worst offenders is the state’s 7th district. And if we go back a few years in time, the Washington Post had a nice piece that showed the (d)evolution of said district into the weird abstract art it is today.

The changing shape of Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District
The changing shape of Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District

Credit for the piece goes to the Washington Post graphics department.