The future of the US House of Representatives depends on the approach that Democrats take to redistricting and our ability to continue to grow and consolidate the college-educated vote.
In the 2022 Project section later, we outline the specific steps to take over the next 18 months to manage redistricting. But over the next two decades, Democrats can be strategic about how to build long-term power in the House of Representatives.
Entering the 2020 cycle, we were hopeful to grow our House majority. Instead, Democrats currently have one of the smallest majorities in the post-war period.
With a redistricting process that favors Republicans and a midterm ahead, Democrats are on extremely tenuous ground in the People’s House. Based on our analysis, a 35-seat loss would not be out of the question if previous midterm results hold – and it could be even larger.9
Below and later, we outline how we can hold the line in the short term and rebuild power in the long term.
The limited opportunity for fair redistricting in the short term
In the 2010 redistricting cycle, the Republicans who took control of red and purple states gerrymandered state lines to keep themselves in power.
For example, Wisconsin Democrats won the vote for State Assembly in 2012 and 2018, but the Republican gerrymander was so severe that Republicans were able to retain greater than 60 of the 99 seats. In some Republican-led competitive states, Democrats will see a fairer electoral process through non-partisan redistricting.
Based on the past results, this approach is not only good for supporting representative government more broadly, but it will also give Democrats a more competitive position in critical states.
Unfortunately, due to Democratic decimation at the state level in 2020, the table below makes clear how much remains firmly in Republican control.
In that table, the “2021 Control” column refers to whether the process will be in partisan hands, and whose, or whether some sort of “fair” redistricting process is in place.
Table. Advancing Fair Redistricting in the States
|Florida||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Republican|
|Georgia||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Republican|
|Iowa||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Republican|
|Kansas||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Republican|
|Louisiana||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Mixed|
|North Carolina||State Legislature Only||Republican|
|Pennsylvania||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Mixed|
|Texas||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Republican|
|Wisconsin||State Legislature Passage, Governor Signature||Mixed|
This table presents a sobering picture. There are some opportunities, though. Non-partisan commissions in Arizona and Michigan could help to further fair districts in those states. Democrats will need to push hard on their part of the “mixed” control scenarios.
In particular, Democratic governors in Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin will need to fight for fair maps with their veto pens. Democratic legislators will need to hold firm.
In many cases and places, Democratic legislators have traded their own protection in exchange for less favorable maps, knowing that Republicans could draw their district away from their homes. Activists will need to encourage legislators to think bigger in this critical moment.
Most critically, Democrats must pass the For the People Act, HR 1, which would provide non-partisan redistricting for all House seats.
Meanwhile, blue state Democrats in states like Illinois, Maryland, and New York will need to advance maps that can help expand Democratic majorities. While we support, and would love to see, expanded non-partisan redistricting, this is not the cycle for unilateral disarmament given what Republicans are poised to do.
Restoring the Voting Rights Act to empower communities of color
With a majority in Congress, Democrats must work to restore the Voting Rights Act (VRA). A more aggressive approach to implementing the VRA could create fairer electoral landscapes throughout the Deep South by giving Black and Hispanic communities more voting power.
While passing the John Lewis Voting Rights Act is a key step toward giving the Department of Justice the restored powers of the full VRA, as Stephen Wolf at Daily Kos has written about extensively, greater enforcement and implementation of the remaining provisions of the Voting Rights Act would create additional seats for communities of color throughout the South.
A state-by-state breakdown of the opportunities with the strongest legal case are described below.
- Alabama: One additional Black seat
- Florida: One additional Black seat
- Georgia: One to two additional Black seat(s)
- Louisiana: One additional Black seat
- Mississippi: One additional Black seat
- South Carolina: One additional Black seat
- Texas: Two additional Hispanic seats
Across these states, the only one where Democrats have in-state leverage is in Louisiana, where Governor John Bel Edwards can add another Black seat in the South. The Department of Justice must ensure full enforcement of the VRA to secure the rest.
Deepening the “Blue Wave” in the suburbs
The 2018 gains in the House of Representatives were driven, in large part, by the shifting preferences of college-educated suburban white voters, particularly white women.
However, the 2020 election results showed the limits of this new coalition. Democrats failed to pick up most of the second wave targets and dropped seats not only in challenging districts like UT-4 or OK-5, but also in Biden-won districts in South Florida and Orange County, CA.
These results indicate that future House gains will depend on revisiting how to sustainably win in these suburban communities. After the 2020 election, potential short and long-term pickup opportunities appear to exist in the following geographies.
Note that, due to redistricting, these districts are likely to change. The core areas that they serve are likely to be the same, or similar.
Table. The Next Opportunities in the House
|Congressional District||Geography||2020 Incumbent||Post-2018 Control||Asian||White||Hispanic||Black||College-Ed (2018)|
|Alaska At-Large||Don Young (R)||R||2.89%||85.97%||6.59%||0.99%||29.23%|
|Califonia's 21st District||Central Valley||David Valadao (R)||D||2.34%||27.20%||62.64%||1.41%||8.34%|
|Califonia's 25th District||LA County||Mike Garcia (R)||D||4.64%||49.15%||29.44%||4.05%||27.60%|
|Califonia's 39th District||Orange County||Young Kim (R)||D||22.05%||38.25%||28.29%||0.53%||41.48%|
|Califonia's 48th District||Orange County||Michelle Steel (R)||D||15.27%||57.49%||12.77%||0.19%||45.15%|
|Florida's 26th District||South Florida||Carlos Gimenez (R)||D||1.02%||16.05%||68.89%||10.63%||26.44%|
|Florida's 27th District||South Florida||Maria Salazar (R)||D||1.46%||20.19%||66.79%||4.85%||39.40%|
|Indiana's 5th District||Indianapolis Suburbs||Victoria Spartz (R)||R||2.42%||87.96%||2.97%||4.73%||45.41%|
|Iowa's 1st District||Northeast Iowa||Ashley Hinson (R)||D||0.98%||81.39%||2.37%||1.54%||26.73%|
|Kansas' 2nd District||Eastern Kansas||Jake LaTurner (R)||R||0.87%||83.49%||3.73%||2.00%||28.99%|
|Kentucky's 6th District||Lexington||Andy Barr (R)||R||1.43%||82.45%||2.24%||5.82%||31.29%|
|Michigan's 3rd District||Grand Rapids||Peter Meijer (R)||R||1.54%||86.03%||4.76%||6.20%||31.33%|
|Michigan's 6th District||Kalamazoo||Fred Upton (R)||R||1.11%||77.57%||3.84%||5.93%||28.05%|
|Minnesota's 1st District||South Minnesota||Jim Hagedorn (R)||R||1.63%||78.49%||2.82%||0.50%||28.45%|
|Missouri's 2nd District||St. Louis Suburbs||Ann Wagner (R)||R||2.65%||78.49%||2.27%||1.51%||48.84%|
|Montana At-large||Matt Rosendale (R)||R||0.69%||82.91%||2.19%||0.06%||31.20%|
|Nebraska's 2nd District||Omaha||Don Bacon (R)||R||1.16%||73.88%||5.62%||6.19%||39.83%|
|New Jersey's 2nd District||South Jersey||Jeff Van Drew (R)||D||2.17%||68.17%||10.79%||7.79%||26.10%|
|New York's 24th District||Syracuse||John Katko (R)||R||1.35%||78.99%||3.18%||4.96%||30.77%|
|Ohio's 1st District||Cincinnati||Steve Chabot (R)||R||2.10%||66.70%||2.00%||19.00%||34.63%|
|Oklahoma's 5th District||Oklahoma City||Stephanie Bice (R)||D||2.07%||72.75%||6.75%||10.03%||30.68%|
|Pennsylvania's 1st District||Philadelphia Suburbs||Brian Fitzpatrick (R)||R||3.78%||74.66%||3.84%||1.63%||40.79%|
|South Carolina's 1st District||Charleston||Nancy Mace (R)||D||0.81%||67.70%||3.70%||18.57%||39.47%|
|Texas' 10th District||Austin||Michael McCaul (R)||R||4.15%||62.89%||17.54%||4.72%||39.84%|
|Texas' 21st District||Austin||Chip Roy (R)||R||2.42%||67.14%||19.86%||0.88%||45.84%|
|Texas' 22nd District||Houston||Troy Nehls (R)||R||11.18%||48.66%||19.68%||7.02%||45.61%|
|Texas' 23rd District||Rio Grande Valley||Tony Gonzales (R)||R||1.06%||32.53%||60.67%||1.08%||21.85%|
|Texas' 24th District||Dallas-Fort Worth||Beth Van Duyne (R)||R||7.29%||62.16%||14.51%||4.08%||45.92%|
|Texas' 31st District||Williamson County||John Carter (R)||R||3.31%||65.47%||16.57%||5.29%||35.39%|
|Utah's 4th District||Salt Lake||Burgess Owens (R)||D||2.26%||80.35%||8.08%||0.19%||30.17%|
These are the types of districts where Democrats should be investing between now and 2022. But since demographics are not destiny and based on what we saw in 2020 as Republicans held on and roared back in some of the districts, we should not assume that the educated, suburban women who have recently drifted leftward will reliably vote Democratic, or that they will be enough on their own to overcome other trends.
In fact, in many of these districts, Biden substantially outperformed the Democratic congressional candidate, suggesting that anti-Trump sentiment, more than a strong affinity for Democrats, drove results at the margins.
To firm up control of the House, we have to better understand what that voter is concerned about and how Democratic governance can meaningfully improve people’s lives in these districts.
How can Democrats create a sustainable House majority?
With Congress and the Department of Justice, advance a real Voting Rights Act strategy
By faithfully enforcing and interpreting the Voting Rights Act, we can increase the representation of the communities of color who are a key part of the Democratic coalition. It is the only tool at the federal level to affect redistricting.
We can go further by passing the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act to both end congressional gerrymandering and restore DOJ’s voting rights enforcement powers.
Give no quarter in the battles of the key states
The extremely tight House majority and the continued dominance of Republicans in many purple states means that redistricting gains will be hard-fought.
Democrats will need to use whatever state-level tools they have to balance out the Republican gerrymanders to come. Based on the stakes in the federal and state legislative landscape, Democrats should dedicate resources, time, and energy to these states in particular:
- Illinois. While Democrats currently hold a 13-5 Congressional majority, the geography of the state could likely sustain a 14-3 map, after one seat is lost after the 2020 Census.
- Louisiana. Governor Edwards should ensure that a second Black district is drawn in one of the states with the largest Black population and the most gerrymandered districts.
- Maryland. Democrats have the opportunity to simplify the map and either create an additional minority district or draw the Eastern Shore district such that a Democrat could win it, creating an 8-0 majority, and undoing the particularly non-compact districts that currently dominate the map.
- Pennsylvania. While a court case created fairer Congressional districts in 2018, Governor Wolf will need to fight Republicans in both houses to secure decent Congressional and state legislative seats.
- Wisconsin. By preserving Governor Evers’s veto and making inroads in the legislature, Democrats can partially unwind the worst legislative gerrymander in the country.
Invest in continued messaging, surveying, and organizing targeted at college-educated white voters and other suburbanites
The gains we’ve made with college white voters, particularly women, are by no means assured.
Moreover, Democrats need to invest in shoring up this voting bloc to avoid seeing major bleeding in 2022 after the setbacks of 2020.
What role will EveryDistrict play in building a stronger House majority?
Deepen our understanding of suburban voters
Through our Win Number program in 2021 and 2022, we’ll get unique insights into what truly motivates suburban voters.
That includes both the white, college-educated women who dominate the news, as well as the communities of color who increasingly reside in the suburbs.
Identify the pathway for “pink” exurban voters
The next frontier toward winning a larger House majority is winning the next round of suburban districts that eluded us this year, particularly districts like Missouri’s 2nd or Indiana’s 5th, that will require understanding how these slightly more conservative suburban and urban voters differ and how to win them.
Our Win Number program in 2021 and 2022 will gain insights on this next part of the future Democratic coalition.
Track progress in redistricting
With our knowledge of the landscape, EveryDistrict will closely track what changes in district lines mean for the future of House power.
Win the state legislative seats that matter for redistricting
In 2022 and beyond, EveryDistrict will continue our work as a leading grassroots fundraising organization.
Combined with our data and strategies, we’ll get the resources to the candidates who will make the biggest difference for who controls redistricting in the 2030 and 2040 cycles.