Are Democrats Finally Learning How to Play Hardball?

Eric Medlin
3 min readFeb 9, 2022

Gerrymandering may be the issue where the Democratic embrace of good governance begins to break.

The famously gerrymandered map of North Carolina from 2010. Source: WUNC

There has been surprising news recently on the decennial redistricting front. Following the 2020 general election, Democrats were convinced that they would be put at a severe disadvantage in the upcoming redistricting process. They believed that a strong Republican downballot showing would lead to gerrymandering that would eliminate many Democrats’ districts and create a harsher environment in which to compete. Gerrymandering was part of the general doom and gloom that took over the Democratic Party last year regarding their electoral prospects.

But in the past month, it has become clear that these concerns were premature at best. Democrats have maintained parity in most state maps. Some of the nation’s most egregious gerrymanders have been overturned or stalled by state courts, while other Republican-drawn maps were more favorable than Democrats had feared. At the same time, Democratic-led states have fully embraced partisan gerrymandering. As Eric Levitz noted last December,

Democratic trifectas have arguably mustered more ruthless party discipline in redistricting than Republicans have. Illinois, Oregon, and New York have all pursued aggressive partisan gerrymanders that have subordinated the job security of some incumbents to maximizing the overall number of Democratic-leaning seats.

The process in New York produced a map that gives Democrats a sizable advantage. Pending court challenges, this map will be enacted just a few weeks after Democrats rejected a bipartisan commission that had reached an impasse about how to proceed with redistricting. Ed Kilgore remarked about the redistricting process in New York that “the aggressive effort… has prompted accusations of hypocrisy toward Democrats, who have frequently campaigned against gerrymandering. Party officials say they are merely matching an example set by Republicans across the country.”

The Democratic reluctance to gerrymander did not end because Republicans started embracing the process. American political parties have been waging wars on electoral districts in some form or fashion ever since Elbridge Gerry’s original manipulated map. In this latest round of controversy…

Eric Medlin

I’m a writer interested in the intersections of history, ideas, and politics. I publish every week.