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Wisconsin Closes 3rd Least Competitive Congressional Redistricting Period in State History

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Average margin of victory in Wisconsin's U.S. House races since 2002 is 37.4 points - eclipsed by only two other redistricting periods

Despite the 2010 election cycle serving up two U.S. House seats flipping to the GOP, three seats decided by less than 10 points, as well as yielding the second narrowest average margin of victory over the past 44 years, Wisconsin ends the current redistricting period as one of the least competitive in Badger State history.

A Smart Politics study of Wisconsin's 728 general election U.S. House contests over the past 162 years finds the five election cycles since 2002 to be the third least competitive in state history out of 17 periods.

The 40 congressional elections conducted in Wisconsin since new district lines went into effect in 2002 produced an average margin of victory of 37.4 points - up by more than six points from the 1992 through 2000 redistricting period (31.3 points).

The only periods with larger blow-out races in the Badger State occurred from 1922 through 1930, when the average margin of victory across the state's 55 congressional elections was 54.6 points, and 1982 through 1990, when the average victory margin was 45.7 points for the 45 elections to the U.S. House held during those five cycles.

Wisconsin's congressional districts have been significantly less competitive than those of its neighbors to the west and southwest.

Iowa's 25 U.S. House elections since 2002 were decided by an average of just 15.9 points, or less than half of Wisconsin's 37.4 points.

The Hawkeye State's congressional races have been more competitive than Wisconsin's during every five-cycle redistricting period since 1922.

Meanwhile, Minnesota's 40 U.S. House contests since 2002 have been decided by an average of 25.8 points, or 11.6 points more competitive than Wisconsin's.

But Badger State U.S. House contests were unusually competitive in 2010, with Republicans picking up the 7th (Sean Duffy, pictured) and 8th (Reid Ribble) Congressional Districts by 7.7 and 9.7-point margins respectively, as well as falling just 3.8 points short of upending 7-term incumbent Ron Kind in the 3rd CD.

Overall, Wisconsin's eight U.S House races were decided by 25.7 points in 2010 - down from 36.3 points in 2008, 34.8 points in 2006, 37.7 points in 2004, and 52.6 points in 2002.

In fact, only once since 1966 has Wisconsin had an election cycle as competitive as 2010. In 1996, the state's nine congressional races produced an average victory margin of 22.5 points.

The most competitive races for Wisconsin's congressional seats occurred after the 1880 Census, when the state's 45 U.S. House contests were decided by an average of just 11.9 points from 1882 through 1890. Ten of these were decided by less than five points.

To put in perspective how uncompetitive Wisconsin's U.S. House races have been in recent decades, consider this: only five redistricting periods have produced average margins of victory north of 30 points. All but one of these have occurred during the last four redistricting periods since 1972.

Average Margin of Victory in Wisconsin U.S. House Elections by Redistricting Period Since Statehood

Period
MoV
Seats
Races
2002-2010
37.4
8
40
1992-2000
31.3
9
45
1982-1990
45.7
9
45
1972-1980
30.6
9
45
1962-1970
25.2
10
50
1952-1960
23.4
10
50
1942-1950
28.0
10
50
1932-1940
13.4
10
50
1922-1930
54.6
11
55
1912-1920
26.4
11
55
1902-1910
21.2
11
55
1892-1900
18.0
10
50
1882-1890
11.9
9
45
1872-1880
12.3
8
40
1862-1870
17.6
6
30
1852-1860
12.6
3
15
1848-1850
15.3
2/3
8
Data compiled by Smart Politics.

With gaudy margins of victory being par for the course in most contests over the last five election cycles, there have been few nail-biters offered up in the Badger State.

Only five races have been decided by less than 10 points since 2002 - including the three from earlier this month - or 12.5 percent of U.S. House contests. (The other close races were Democrat Steve Kagen's 2.1-point and 8.1-point victories in the 8th CD during the 2006 and 2008 elections).

Overall, the current redistricting period ranks as the second worst in state history for serving up tight races - behind only 1982-1990, when just two contests (4.4 percent) were decided by less than 10 points (GOPers Scott Klug with a 6.4-point victory in the 2nd CD and Toby Roth with a 7.1-point win in the 8th CD in 1990).

Since statehood, an average of 1-in-4 congressional races in Wisconsin have been decided by less than 10 points, or double the 1-in-8 ratio produced by the district lines created in 2002.

With Republicans running a clean sweep of the governor's office, State Senate, and State Assembly, it will be interesting to see how Wisconsin's eight districts are carved up for the 2012 elections.

Will new district lines usher in a new era of competitiveness in 2012 and beyond or a return to more of the same?

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1 Comment


  • Nice analysis. However, it is often difficult to determine whether redistricting results in the uncompetitive races or the impact of incumbents on the large margin of victory.

    In fact, 6 of the 8 Wisconsin Members of the House of Representatives were elected before 2000. Obey, Petri and Sensebrenner were elected in the 1970s. These officials had been extremely successful in other drawn Districts.

    Of the 2 newcomers (prior to 2010 results) Gwen Moore represented a Democratic District that would probably never go Republican. Only the 8th CD would be considered "competitive" in a normal election cycle.

    The Wisconsin District lines do make sense from a geographic and demographic perspective. There is very little "gerrymandering" in their map -- similar to MN and IA. I would argue the margin of victory can be attributed to incumbency, constituent services and/or clout of the Wisconsin delegation.

    Incumbency Impact
    The margins of victory for folks like Dave Obey (and in MN Jim Oberstar) were probably driven by personality vs. politics. Over the past 30 years, the ideology and views of the Democratic Party shifted (Obey and Oberstar were both pro-life, pro-gun Dems -- an endangered species) away from the rural voters of northern MN and Wisconsin, but these two incumbents won huge margins based on their clout and personal reputations. Not necessarily on issues that may motiviate their constituents to vote against them.

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