Data Wonk

Republicans Seek a One-Party State

Gerrymandering, and electing Dan Knodl, are a means to get there.

By - Apr 3rd, 2023 11:51 am
Dan Knodl. Photo from the 2021-2022 Wisconsin Blue Book.

Dan Knodl. Photo from the 2021-2022 Wisconsin Blue Book.

Anyone wondering whether Wisconsin is truly a swing state should take a look at the chart below. The blue bars on the left show the percentage of the vote for the Democratic candidate for the five state-wide offices on the ballot (Governor, Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and US Senator). The red bars show the percentage of votes for the Republican candidates for these same five offices. (Note that this and the following discussions omit votes for third-party candidates and write-in votes.)

The state’s voters gave a split decision: three of the five offices were won by the Democrat; two were won by the Republican. In every case the vote was close. Only Tony Evers was able to get over 51% of the vote.

The last two pairs of bars show my estimate of the total statewide vote for members of the state Senate and state Assembly for candidates representing the two parties. These show a slight but not overwhelming preference for Republican candidates for both branches of the Legislature.

Democratic vs. Republican for Wisconsin Offices

Democratic vs. Republican for Wisconsin Offices

And yet the Legislature is heavily dominated by Republicans. How is this possible? Because Republican gerrymandering greatly dilutes the Democratic vote.

The basic strategy behind the gerrymander is to create a few heavily Democratic districts. This is called “packing.” In 33 of the 35 districts won by Democrats the population of Democratic voters is between 55% and 90% Democratic.

Packing Democrats into a few districts allowed the gerrymander designers to create more majority Republican districts out of districts that were previously competitive or majority Democrat. In 58 of the Assembly districts the percentage of voters who vote Republican is 58%, more than half of Assembly seats.

Estimating the true statewide vote for branches of the Legislature presents an immediate challenge: what should be done with districts that had only a candidate from one of the two parties? These districts are heavily skewed to one or the other of the parties, so potential candidates of the disfavored party are reluctant to run in what they view as a hopeless cause.

There seem to be three possible approaches to correct for single party districts. One is to count the total number of all voters, including voters in the one-party districts. This leads to an undercount of voters who were unable to vote because there was no candidate of that voter’s party.

A second approach is to not count either vote from single-party districts. This would tend to lead to voters in packed districts not being counted.

I chose the third approach. First, the vote for governor for each party was calculated for each Assembly district, as shown on the horizontal axis of the graph below. Then, the relationship between the vote for governor and the vote for Assembly, shown on the vertical axis, was calculated using regression.

A vote for a statewide candidate like governor has as much value in a heavily Democratic district as in a heavily Republican district. Unlike with an Assembly district its value does not depend on whether or not the district is a competitive one. While not perfect, the relationship between the vote for governor and the vote for Assembly is strong. It was used to estimate the vote for districts which had candidates from only one of the two major parties if a candidate from the missing party had decided to run.

Vote for State Assembly Based on Governor Vote

Vote for State Assembly Based on Governor Vote

The process was repeated for state Senate districts. I also used it to estimate the likely vote for the 16 Senate districts that were not up for election in 2022.

Vote for State Senate Based on Governor Vote

Vote for State Senate Based on Governor Vote

The result of combining the actual two-party vote with the projected two-party vote in districts with only one candidate is to show Republicans with a very small advantage in last year’s election for legislators. The second and third pair of the bars in the graph below indicate a nearly tied vote for member of the state Senate and Assembly, very consistent with the votes for state-wide offices.

Gerrymandering, however, has converted a very competitive election into an essentially one-party legislature. The last two pairs of columns reflect a very different picture of the state of democracy in Wisconsin, one in which gerrymandering has converted the state legislature into a one-party body.

In the case of state Senate seats, the chart shows the share of seats for each party, if the Republican candidate for the 8th district, Dan Knodl, is elected in next week’s election. Knodl’s election would give Republicans a two thirds majority in the Wisconsin Senate, which would give them the power to impeach state officers.

Democratic vs. Republican for Wisconsin Offices

Democratic vs. Republican for Wisconsin Offices

In last February’s primary, Knodl was presented as a more moderate candidate, defeating an Assembly member who was known for repeatedly insisting that Donald Trump won reelection in the 2020 election. Yet Knodl appears to be no moderate. He was among the legislators who advocated delaying certification of the presidential vote in January 2021.

A recent Journal Sentinel article quoted Knodl as saying “I certainly would consider” impeaching Judge Janet Protasiewicz. He did not specify if he meant he would favor this for her current position or if she won the race for state Supreme Court. Either way, it suggests that Knodl has joined with the trumpification of the Republican Party, in which achieving power is more important than preserving Wisconsin’s democracy.

Categories: Data Wonk, Politics

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