Is Republican bias in Florida’s congressional districts really the fault of the legislature? Last week, the Florida Supreme Court ruled by 5-2 that eight of Florida’s 27 congressional districts were drawn with “partisan intent” favoring the Republican Party. The districts in question, drawn after the 2010 census, were used in the 2012 House elections. In those elections, the Republicans drew 51 percent of the vote yet won 63 percent of Florida’s House seats. In a perfectly unbiased electoral system, a party winning 50 percent of the statewide votes would earn 50 percent of the congressional seats. But the legislature that drew the districts might not be completely at fault.
In 2013, Jowei Chen, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, a professor of political science at Stanford, published a study and an expert report to a Florida circuit court that came to that conclusion. It found that because of the population geography of Florida — where Democrats and Republicans happen to live — it is natural to draw districts that have a Republican bias.
In Florida, as is common around the country, Democrats are highly concentrated in urban centers like Miami; Republicans are more spread out around the state. This means residents of Democratic-leaning precincts are far more likely to have similarly voting neighbors than red-leaning precincts are. And since Florida’s congressional districts must by law be contiguous and compact, Democrats are more likely to be packed into districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic than Republicans are. Nate Cohn, my colleague at The Upshot, has written about the phenomenon of “wasted votes” and how it hurts Democrats in states like Pennsylvania.