Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering

They all did it in Wisconsin, Republicans declare. Just ask Christian Schneider.

By - Jan 26th, 2016 10:01 am
Christian Schneider

Christian Schneider

When the Republicans need someone to spin the electorate, there is never anyone better for the job than Christian Schneider, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s only regular political columnist. Schneider, after all, has spent most of his career as a party operative, including years as a Republican legislative aide and running GOP campaigns, followed by six years as a senior fellow with conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI). He became a part-time staffer at the newspaper in 2013, while he continued to contribute to the WPRI and the National Review and that arrangement has continued since.

After the gerrymandering of political districts overseen by Republicans in 2012, Schneider rose to their defense with an August 2013 column peddling the theory that this was no different or more partisan than past efforts when Democrats held power. To buttress his claim, he pointed to the an action taken by Democratic Gov. Tony Earl, elected in 1982, who worked with Democratic legislators to change districting boundaries set by a federal court in 1982. “As was the case just last year, one party got to set legislative boundaries to their political advantage, to ensure partisan majorities,” Schnieder wrote.

This defense — the Nixonian “they all do it” — has now become Republican dogma, and the Earl story was repeated by Wisconsin Conservative Digest founder Bob Dohnal, in comments after this column.

But we now have exact data measuring the partisan advantage achieved in Wisconsin and in states across the country, courtesy of a suit filed in U.S. District Court. As I’ve reported, the suit includes data crunched by expert professors measuring the impact of state reapportionments since the U.S. Supreme Court’s “one-man one vote” rulings of the 1960s forever changed how this is done.

University of Chicago Professor of Law Nicholas Stephanopolous, and Eric McGhee, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of Chicago, devised an “efficiency gap,” which measures the ratio of each party’s wasted votes to all votes cast.

Prof. Simon Jackman of Stanford University then did a historic analysis which measured the efficiency gap for each party in 786 state legislative elections in 41 states from 1972-2014. (Nine states with incomplete data were not included.)

And looking at Wisconsin’s Republican efficiency gap advantage of 13 percent in 2012 and 10 percent in 2014, he concluded that in “the entire set of 786 state legislative elections” no other two-election sequence after redistricting achieved this big an advantage for either party. The gerrymandering in Wisconsin is “virtually without historical precedent,” he concluded.

As for the idea that Wisconsin’s Republicans are only doing what Democrats before them did, that couldn’t be more untrue. The state’s highest Democratic efficiency gap since 1972 was just 2 percent in 1994, Jackman found. The current Republican advantage is at least five times larger. (And even if Democrats had ever gained such an advantage, the reason for reform is to make sure that all voters, regardless of party, have their votes count equally.)

But what about that egregious redistricting by Gov. Earl? Stephanopolous reviewed the data for me and found that the Republicans had a 3.8 percent efficiency gap in 1982 and after the relatively minor changes made by Earl and the Democrats, that changed to a 2.4 percent GOP advantage in 1984. Throughout the 1980s, the Democrats never had an efficiency gap advantage.

But Schneider’s claim becomes all the more hollow when you consider a initial ruling by a three-judge federal court, of which two judges were appointed by Republican presidents, in response to a suit against the Republicans’ redistricting in Wisconsin. The ruling noted that historical data suggests “there is close to a zero percent chance that the current (Wisconsin) plan’s efficiency gap will ever favor the Democrats during the remainder of the decade.”

That stands in start contrast to advantages realized in the past even by clearly partisan redistricting in various states over the last 42 years. As Jackman found, the edge achieved by one party often changed and declined over the decade as people move and other population changes occur within districts. But Wisconsin’s current Republican advantage is simply too huge for that to happen, the judges noted.

Nor was it a coincidence that Wisconsin’s efficiency gap was so huge, the court found. The ruling noted that Republicans hired Ronald Keith Gaddie, a political science professor at the University of Oklahoma, to help with the redistricting: “Gaddie’s model forecast that the Assembly plan would have a pro-Republican ‘efficiency gap’ of 12 percent.”

Gaddie, it appears, used the efficiency gap analysis, which had been created to reform redistricting to instead assure a massive partisan advantage. All of which may be taken into account in the federal court’s ultimate ruling (and however it rules the other side will likely appeal; this dispute could go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.)

Republican insiders had to know about Gaddie’s role; he has done work for the conservative American Enterprise Institute and his involvement here was reported by And a liberal blogger called Gaddie “the most influential person” in the redistricting strategy by the Wisconsin GOP.

Considering that Schneider’s entire modus operandi is to repeat talking points and spin from Republican insiders, how is it possible he didn’t know this plan was devised with scientific precision to gain such a huge advantage? Either he knew and didn’t disclose this to readers, or didn’t know and simply plays the patsy for his Republican friends. I’ll leave it to Journal Sentinel readers to decide which is worse.

In his zeal to claim “they all did it,” Schneider ranged back in time to the first half of the 20th century to claim Progressive Republicans also did egregious partisan redistricting. The claim is, for starters, irrelevant, because before the watershed Supreme Court rulings of the 1960s, there was no legal standard for how redistricting should be done.

That said, Schneider managed to slime Robert M. LaFollette as someone who “practiced a vituperative brand of vengeful politics” without offering any specifics and to slam LaFollette’s Progressives for supposedly freezing out Democrats through aggressive redistricting.

The reality is that Democrats were largely irrelevant in the period he was discussing. They lost 31 of 32 elections for governor from 1894 to 1956 and that was a state-wide vote that had nothing to do with redistricting. This was a period where all elections were generally decided in the Republican primary between Progressives and the Republican Stalwarts. The Democrats barely existed in those days and to suggest this was the result of gerrymandering is simply absurd. Either Schneider is clueless about Wisconsin history or simply misleading readers. I’ll leave it to his editors to decide which is worse.

Categories: Murphy's Law, Politics

30 thoughts on “Murphy’s Law: The Myth of Democratic Gerrymandering”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    Schneider is an embarrassment. He should not be getting a platform in the state’s largest daily paper. It’s not his politics that are so egregious. The paper should have voices left and right. It’s that since Walker took office most of his columns have read like press releases from the governor’s office. He should be a paid staffer for all the cheer-leading and defending of Walker he does. Plus it’s not like he’s a fantastic writer or an innovative thinker. Is there really not a better option for a conservative voice?

    Regarding the gerrymandering, I’m not surprised that Schneider and WCD have their facts wrong, but it shouldn’t matter. It’s the “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument. Even if the Democrats did do it, that doesn’t make it right now.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Just because Earl did a poor job when he redistricted in 1982 doesn’t mean that his motives were pure. The technology available now was only a dream in 1982. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to compare the redistricting results using the same measures. I’m not saying it’s ok, but I think it’s rather overblown. If fairness is the concern, then pie-shaped districts originating from the center of Milwaukee would be the answer.

  3. Bruce Murphy says:

    Jeremy, I wouldn’t argue any politician’s motives were pure. As to technology, egregious gerrymandering has been done since before the term was coined in the 1800s.

  4. old baldy says:

    WCD must be spittin’ mad at being debunked once again. Can’t wait to see his response.

  5. The redistricters had plenty of time to do their deed, even had they used the 1982 technology. The building block data of redistricting has not changed, merely the speed of calculating different potential districts. Rep. Fred Kessler could tell us a few things about those days.

  6. tom says:

    Right wing political hacks like Christian Schneider are the reason I refuse to subscribe to or read the local JS rag. This right wing cancer is present in all Journal Communications media including Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner at WTMJ radio and TMJ4. These right wingers will be lying and deceiving the public once again as our incompetent governor launches his third term in the near future.

  7. Jeff says:

    Thanks for laying this out, Bruce. I had no idea if there was more or less politics involved WI re-districting in the past. Very interesting column this week!

  8. Bill Sweeney says:

    Another great example of “evidence based” journalism which is becoming more and more valuable as major media outlets shrink. Here is a related article from the New York Times:

  9. Abe says:

    The liberal spin is mind numbing. Dems gerrymander. Get a grip. Progs always pick up their turds by the clean end.

  10. Richard says:

    Journal-Sentinel: I pass by earnest-looking people hawking your papers at local grocery stores. If you are truly interested in gaining me as a subscriber, you must first become an advocate for MILWAUKEE. Having Christian Schneider as a standard columnist is Exhibit #1 in why you are NOT a Milwaukee paper. You should rename yourself ‘Oz-Wash-Wauk J-S’

  11. Kevin Baas says:

    Repubs be like “the liberal spin is mind-numbing”. Dems always point to the 99.9% of scientists and the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real. Never admitting that the 4 “scientists” and the complete lack of conflicting evidence is magically right because my gut tells me so.

  12. podman says:

    Certainly Schneider is deserved of your criticism for spreading misinformation,but more importantly is your article explaining the scientific study and proof of gerrymandering in Wisconsin that is before the courts.This is more than political gamemanship, democracy in Wisconsin is at stake. Is the Republican Party opposed to democracy?

  13. Alene says:

    If not for the gerrymandering of the 1st district, Paul Ryan might not have won his last term to the House of Representatives. To ensure he would win they decided they would have to include a swath of Waukesha county in his district, and presto-chango he wins again.

  14. Jake says:

    It’s a fact that Republicans can only win with a smaller white electorate.

  15. John says:

    Bruce, I love it. I have a strong suspicion that Waukesha’s resident septuagenarian political troll won’t leave his cave to respond to this one.

  16. David Nelson says:

    Good article Bruce. I appreciate local parsing of significant research. As for Abe’s comments… there is nothing factual there to work with.

  17. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Bruce, more BS. I reported it first, cause I was there. Schneider was not. I had Tommy confirm directly to you and you are bloviating just like Roesslein told me you do.They did it and we all complained, as did the LWV. You spend 2000 words saying nothing, just admit it you failed to do your research and have egg on your face again. Lots of worthless opinions on this site little knowledge or facts. I have been there the last 50 years. Most of the rest the people here would have trouble finding an out house after dark, unless the smell attracted them.

  18. Bruce Murphy says:

    Yes Bob, Tommy confirmed that Earl “moved some lines,” and the result as I’ve reported is the newly redistricted state went from a 3.8% Republican advantage to a 2.4% Republican advantage.

  19. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Better for people to think you idiot then open mouth. Dems set the precedent, the courts reapportioned and the left made it better for themselves. Alinksy rules. All of you guys probably applauded them
    You remind me of Farmer Jones who yelled at Farmer Smith for stealing his cows. Farmer Smith said: last year you stole mine. Jones says: “two wrongs dont make a right”.

  20. Vincent Hanna says:

    Oh the irony. The man who always screams “but the left did it first” says two wrongs don’t make a right. Truly priceless.

  21. happyjack27 says:

    So after Earl moved the lines, the resulting map gave Republicans a 2.4% vote efficiency advantage… would that make Earl complicit in a Republican gerrymander?

  22. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Gave them control of Assembly for ten more years. Numbers are ,meanginless you are talking about seats, they are what count. So it is fine fro Earl to gerrymander and set precedent but the GOP should turn it over to some committee that only Jesus could create???

  23. happyjack27 says:

    Let’s do some basic math here: If there was a 2.4% efficiency gap in favor of Republicans, and the Democrats had a majority in the assembly for 10 years, what do you think the popular vote was? Do you think the majority of people voted Dem or Repub for assembly?

    If numbers are meaningless then it is beyond even the powers of Jesus.

    Tell me, are letters meaningless, too? That would be ironic…

  24. happyjack27 says:

    “Gave them control of Assembly for ten ( <— 10 is a number! ) more years. Numbers are ,meanginless"

  25. Kevin Baas says:

    Look, I’m upset as you are about Earl’s pro-GOP gerrymander. And I applaud you for your impartiality as you yourself are clearly pro-GOP and yet you are passionate against it.

    But I don’t think a Jesus commission is anti-GOP in any way. It takes power away from democratic congresspeople as much as it does from republican congresspeople. That’s the whole idea: to remove the conflict of interest and try to shift it to citizens, whose interest are aligned. To stop having the foxes guard the hen house and house that job to the hens.

    But I agree with you that it comes up short – how is an independent commission going to know any better what a fair map is? And how do you know that they won’t try to pull a fast one?

    We need open data and open source software tools that anyone can use, and see at a glance what the real effects of a redistricting plan are.

  26. David Nelson says:

    Agreed Kevin. The point is to make as impartial a district map as possible with safeguards to assure we do our best. If we do a reasonable job of that, the cries of partisanship should ebb (except from those who never wished for impartiality).

  27. wisconsin conservative digest says:

    Well for all of you intellects here next time the Left is in charge, you need to convince them to do that. In the meantime keep whining.

  28. David Nelson says:

    I especially appreciate those comments which do not indicate a jaded individual given to daytime drinking.

  29. Kevin Baas says:

    Actually this may be the one time I agree with WCD, assuming that last comment wasn’t sarcastic.

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