Guest Blog: The Issue of Gerrymandering Legislative Districts in Wisconsin

A recent post from was brought to my attention. It discusses the actions being taken by the Arizona Legislature to have the power to set Congressional boundaries instead of a non-partisan committee, actions including taking the case to the Supreme Court. The post enumerates a list of reasons why having partisan politicians deciding district boundaries are not in the best of public interest.

The issue in Arizona reminds me of what is going on in Wisconsin. Much has been talked about recently regarding the absolute power over the three branches of Wisconsin government the Republicans have obtained. One item that has been brought up repeatedly is the issue of re-drawing legislative districts for voting purposes. The state of Wisconsin is divided into 99 Assembly districts of roughly equal population. The Assembly districts are grouped by threes to form each Senate district. It is necessary to re-align the district boundaries after each U.S. Census to ensure the Assembly districts remain equally populated. In some states, this process is controlled by a non-partisan group that will not involve politics. In other states, the process is controlled by the political party in power. Wisconsin is one of those states.

From Webster Dictionary: To divide (a State) into districts for the choice of representatives, in an unnatural and unfair way, with a view to give a political party an advantage over its opponent.

When people in the Badger State discuss the issue of gerrymandering, they usually talk in qualitative terms. I wanted to devise a metric so the issue can be discussed in quantitative terms. This way the degree of which gerrymandering exists can be compared and contrasted over a period of time. The metric I came up with is something that is commonly used in statistical analysis – the p-value. In simple terms, the p-value states the probability an outcome is based on random chance or an assignable cause. The lower the p-value, the less likeliness of random chance and instead a greater chance a special cause influenced the result.

After the 2012 elections PolitiFact rated Sandy Paasch’s claim that Republicans captured more seats than Democrats despite being outpolled as “Mostly True”. PolitiFact mentioned it was somewhat misleading to compare total statewide votes when some elections went uncontested. I agree with PolitiFact in this case, I feel it is intellectual honest to analyze only contest with a candidate from the two major parties. So what I did was research previous year’s Assembly elections and analyze only the ones with a Dem and G.O.P. candidate.

I’ve laid out my findings in the following tables. The first column lists the year of the fall elections. The second and third columns list the ratio of the Dem vs G.O.P. vote, leaving out third party numbers. The fourth and fifth columns list the number of contested seats won by each party. The next column lists the calculated p-value, the statistic which determines the degree of gerrymandering vs random occurrence. A p-value of “100” indicated no gerrymandering – a perfect democracy, if you will. A p-value of “0” indicated perfect gerrymandering. A p-value of less than five states gerrymandering existed beyond a reasonable doubt.

In conclusion, looking at the p-values one can conclude beyond a reasonable doubt the Republican Party of Wisconsin has rigged the system to favor themselves.

2010 Census
One doesn’t need to compute a p-value. Just eyeball the numbers and it is clear something doesn’t pass the smell test.

Election Dem % Rep % D seats won R seats won p Favoring
2014 44.5 55.5 14 34 2 R
2012 45.3 54.7 16 56 0 R

2000 Census
Democrats have raised the red flag the last couple of years regarding the issue of gerrymandering, but in actuality it has been occurring for over ten years.

Election Dem % Rep % D seats won R seats won p Favoring
2010 45.1 54.9 24 44 8 R
2008 49.2 50.8 28 40 15 R
2006 49.0 51.0 23 37 15 R
2004 47.5 52.5 17 39 1 R
2002 47.4 52.6 18 30 13 R

1990 Census
The G.O.P. gained the upper hand with the 1996 elections and is still holding it 18 years later.

Election Dem % Rep % D seats won R seats won p Favoring
2000 48.1 51.9 23 35 16 R
1998 49.9 50.1 26 28 70 R
1996 45.9 54.1 28 41 32 R
1994 49.7 50.3 29 24 39 D
1992 51.1 48.9 31 29 84 D

1980 Census
In the issue of fairness, it’s not just the one political party that has done this. The Democrats also did this to a certain extent in the 70’s and 80’s.

Election Dem % Rep % D seats won R seats won p Favoring
1990 55.2 44.8 42 19 3 D
1988 52.0 48.0 37 34 90 D
1986 53.8 46.2 49 29 9 D
1984 49.2 50.8 39 45 27 R
1982 53.7 46.3 47 39 78 D

1970 Census
The Democrats controlled state politics in the 70’s. Govs. Lucy and Schreiber were Dems. They had the Assembly gerrymandered almost to he same extent as the Republicans have it today. Notice how many of the races were contested? The 1972 election saw 94 of 99 seats contested.

Election Dem % Rep % D seats won R seats won p Favoring
1980 52.2 47.8 42 26 9 D
1978 50.6 49.4 44 33 21 D
1976 57.8 42.2 58 25 2 D
1974 50.3 49.7 41 35 40 D
1972 54.0 46.0 59 35 7 D

All politics is cyclical. Will the Democrats ever again have the upper hand? Of course – but it may take 15 or 25 years for it to happen.


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5 thoughts on “Guest Blog: The Issue of Gerrymandering Legislative Districts in Wisconsin

  1. I like the optimism of thinking that the dems will come back, but it isn’t going to happen. When we passed the gay marriage ban in, that was a big sign to me that we jumped the shark so to speak. We Wisconsinites go out of our way to enforce our bigotry. I believe that liberals are starting to get the picture. I’m only here for my job otherwise, there are way better options out there. I always kind of hoped the hillbillies around here would come around, but they took the only way they know. We truly are the Mississippi of the north.

    1. Agree.

      Hope it wins, but even if it doesn’t, it opens up another front that the wingnuts and the oligarchs have to defend. Let them explain why billionaires own both parties.

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