Wisconsin’s Current Congressional District Maps 2nd Least Competitive in State History

In the third in a series of reports on the association between redistricting and the lack of competitive U.S. House contests in the Upper Midwest, a Smart Politics analysis of Wisconsin election returns finds its current congressional district maps to be the second least competitive in state history.

The first report in the series found Minnesota’s current congressional maps to have produced the third lowest percentage of competitive U.S. House races – those decided by less than 10 points – in a study of nearly 550 general election contests across 16 decades (5 of 32 contests since 2002, 15.6 percent).

The second report in the series found Iowa’s current congressional maps to have generated the fifth lowest percentage of competitive races across 17 decades of congressional district maps and more than 630 general election U.S. House contests (4 of 20 races since 2002, 20.0 percent).

In Wisconsin, only 6.3 percent of U.S. House elections since 2002 have been decided by less than 10 points (2 of 32 contests). Both of these races were held in the state’s 8th CD, in 2006 and 2008, in a district currently represented by Democratic Congressman Steven Kagen. Only one other period in Badger State history has produced a lower percentage of competitive races – 1982-1990 – when just 4.4 percent were decided by less than 10 points (2 of 45).

However, this recent lack of competitiveness in U.S. House elections has not been the tradition across the 17 decades of Congressional elections in Wisconsin. Overall, 25.1 percent (181) of the state’s 720 general election U.S. House contests since statehood have been competitive.

The peak period of competitiveness occurred from 1872-1880, when the state had the same number of districts as it has today – eight. During that span, 19 of 40 races, or 47.5 percent, were decided by less than 10 points. Even though this was a period of dominance by the Republican Party, which won 27 seats to just 13 for the Democrats, there were very few blow-out races – with only 3 contests out of 40 decided by more than 30 points across these five election cycles.

By contrast, there have been 17 blow-out U.S. House races in Wisconsin since 2002, with 3 races decided by more than 30 points in 2008 alone.

Other periods with very competitive district maps were 1852-1860 and 1882-1890 when 46.7 percent of races were decided by less than 10 points during each census period.

But competitive races in Wisconsin are not simply a relic of the 19th Century. The 1930s were a particularly robust period for the state’s democratic processes – with the influx of the Progressive Party. From 1932 to 1940, 38 percent of the state’s Congressional races were competitive (19 of 50). During that period, Progressives won 19 U.S. House seats, Republicans won 19 seats, and Democrats won 12.

Wisconsin’s current district maps have also produced the third largest average margin of victory in the state’s 17 decades of congressional elections. Since 2002, the average margin of victory for U.S. House races in the Badger State has been a whopping 40.4 points – much higher than Minnesota’s 27.5 points and Iowa’s 15.9 points during this span.

The only periods in Wisconsin that produced larger average margin of victories were 1922-1930 (54.6 points) and 1982-1990 (45.7 points).

And even though the latter part of the 20th century has not produced an exceedingly high percentage of competitive races, the average margin of victory was much lower under previous congressional district maps than it is today (40.4 points). The average margin of victory was 28.0 points from 1942-1950, 23.4 points from 1952-1960, 25.2 points from 1962-1970, 30.6 points from 1972-1980, and 31.3 points from 1992-2000.

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

Period
Seats
Competitive races
Percent competitive
MoV
2002-2008
8
2
6.3
40.4
1992-2000
9
10
22.2
31.3
1982-1990
9
2
4.4
45.7
1972-1980
9
8
17.8
30.6
1962-1970
10
9
18.0
25.2
1952-1960
10
12
24.0
23.4
1942-1950
10
11
22.0
28.0
1932-1940
10
19
38.0
13.4
1922-1930
11
7
12.7
54.6
1912-1920
11
16
29.1
26.4
1902-1910
11
16
29.1
21.2
1892-1900
10
15
30.0
18.0
1882-1890
9
21
46.7
11.9
1872-1880
8
19
47.5
12.3
1862-1870
6
5
16,7
17.6
1852-1860
3
7
46.7
12.6
1848-1850
3*
2
25.0
15.3

* Wisconsin held elections for two U.S. House districts in May of 1848, three in November of 1848 and three in 1850. Data compiled by Smart Politics.

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