Minnesota’s Currently Drawn Congressional Maps 3rd Least Competitive in State History

Despite Smart Politics’ recent observation that Minnesota’s U.S. House elections are far more competitive than the national average, new research by Smart Politics finds the Gopher State’s current district boundaries to have produced the 3rd lowest number of competitive races out of the 15 Congressional maps that have been drawn since statehood.

In the four general elections that have been held under the current incarnation of the Congressional district maps, there have been just 5 competitive races out of 32 contests, or those decided by less than 10 points (15.6 percent). Now, while that is much higher than the national average (9.3 percent), it is very poor when judged against the state’s electoral history.

Only the 1972-1980 redistricting plan (5 competitive races, 12.5 percent) and the 1912-1920 map (7 competitive races, 14.0 percent) yielded more blowout victories than Minnesota’s currently drawn Congressional districts.

Will a potential reapportionment in 2012 that reduces the number of districts from eight to seven create more competitiveness in Minnesota the long-term? Probably not, according to historical data.

It is true that when Minnesota had just a handful of seats in the U.S. House in the 1800s, the frequency of competitive races was much higher (and the average margin of victory, much lower):

· From 1882-1890, when the state had 5 seats, 56 percent of the contests held that decade were decided by less than 10 points (14 of 25 races). The average margin of victory was just 16.7 points.

· From 1872-1880, when Minnesota had 3 seats, 40 percent of U.S. House elections were competitive (6 of 15 races). The average margin of victory was only 13.9 points during this period.

· From 1892-1900, when the Gopher State had 7 seats, 37.1 percent of Congressional elections were decided by less than 10 points (13 of 35 races). The average margin of victory was 14.3 points during this 5-election cycle.

However, when Minnesota sent 9 members to the House of Representatives in D.C for three straight cycles from the 1930s through the 1950s, more than twice as many contests were competitively decided, 31.7 percent (40 of 126 races), as the current district scheme. (Note: data excludes the 1932 election in which 9 at-large representatives were elected). As such, fewer districts in the state will not beget more competitive races; more competitively-drawn maps is a start.

Not surprisingly, in addition to the current Congressional maps having yielded such a feeble number of competitive races, the margin of victory during the last four elections (27.5 points) is also one of the highest in state history (5th out of 15; although Minnesota is more competitive than the national average by 10+ points). Only the 1902-1910 map (38.7 points), the 1912-1920 map (32.8 points), the 1972-1980 map (32.1 points), and the 1982-1990 map (31.2 points) have created more lopsided election results.

The fact that 3 of the 5 least competitive rounds of Minnesota Congressional elections in state history have occurred during the last 4 district maps should serve notice to the Minnesota State Legislature and the Governor that more work needs to be done, and a bold redistricting process introduced, to help insure more competitive elections in the state.

Competitiveness in Minnesota U.S. House Elections Since Statehood by Congressional District Map

Period
Seats
Competitive races
Percent competitive
MoV
2002-2008
8
5
15.6
27.5
1992-2000
8
10
25.0
23.4
1982-1990
8
7
17.5
31.2
1972-1980
8
5
12.5
32.1
1962-1970
8
11
27.5
22.4
1952-1960
9
13
28.9
18.4
1942-1950
9
12
26.7
21.6
1932-1940*
9
15
41.7
14.8
1922-1930
10
10
20.0
26.0
1912-1920
10
7
14.0
32.8
1902-1910
9
8
17.8
38.7
1892-1900
7
13
37.1
14.3
1882-1890
5
14
56.0
16.7
1872-1880
3
6
40.0
13.9
1862-1870
2
2
20.0
16.9
1857-1860**
2
NA
NA
NA

* In 1932 Minnesota elected all nine representatives to the U.S. House as at-large representatives.

** From 1857 through 1860, two at-large representatives were elected.

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