Only once in the past 20 years have Michigan Democrats elected a majority of the state’s Congressional delegation. That was in 2008, when Democrats knocked off a pair of Republican U. S. House members to achieve an 8-7 edge in 2009-2010. That lasted only one term. Republicans got their delegation majority back in 2010 and Democrats have never regained it although they’re now in a 7-7 tie.
This year, however, Democrats believe they have their best chance since their halcyon days of 1974-2002, when they controlled Michigan’s representation in the U.S. House of Representatives for nearly three straight decades. That’s because they have more favorable maps in which to compete in 2022 than they had in the apportionments of the past two decades, which were fashioned by majority Republicans in the Legislature and two GOP governors.
There is one less seat allotted Michigan than in the last decade; for the next decade, we’ll have only 13, whereas we had 19 as recently as 1982. Since then, we’ve dropped from 19 to 18 to 16 to 15 to 14 to 13 with each passing census. Also this year, two incumbents (both Democrats, Andy Levin and Haley Stevens) will be running against each other in a primary. This is the first time this has happened since 2002, when the late John Dingell defeated fellow incumbent Lynn Rivers in an Ann Arbor/Dearborn area CD.
If the Democrats can win all seven of the seats where they have a partisan base advantage of at least 50.0%, knocking off an incumbent Republican (Peter Meijer) in the process, they will gain a 7-6 majority of the delegation. If they can also save two-term Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin, who has had to move into the newly-created 7th District in an attempt to be re-elected, they can gain a 8-5 edge in the delegation. Conversely, Republicans must re-elect all their incumbents, including Meijer, and beat Slotkin in order to gain a 7-6 edge. If they could also upset incumbent Democrat Dan Kildee in the reconstituted 8th District, the GOP might achieve an 8-5 advantage.
Even if the structures of the two major political parties are not as strong as they once were, party affiliation still is the strongest factor in determining election outcomes. There is a close correlation between the ideological make-up of a Congressional district and the partisan identity of those it elects to public office. In fact, no other factor rivals party ID as a predictor of electoral outcomes — not issues, not money, not geography, not even the candidates themselves.
And, over most of the past decade, Michigan voters are identifying with candidates bearing the Democratic label slightly more than with Republicans, although that advantage depends to a great extent on whether it’s a presidential or a gubernatorial election year.
Below is a rundown in ranked order — never before published — of the current base party strength of each of the 13 new U.S. House districts as designed by the Michigan Independent Citizens Redistricting Commission (MICRC). All of these will be contested in the Nov. 8 general election. The table is based on data collected by Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting, Inc., and the Secretary of State’s elections division, and then dissected and reconstituted by The Ballenger Report.
The districts are ranked by the greatest Democratic strength on down to the least Democratic (most Republican) based on the vote for Dem candidates in a blend of races for the state Board of Education, Wayne State University Board of Governors, University of Michigan Board of Regents, and Michigan State University Board of Trustees over a span of four elections — 2014 through 2020.
Most psephologists consider the four education boards on the statewide ballot to be the most nearly foolproof yardstick for calculating a political party’s base in a given election, because they’re so far down on the bedsheet that a voter is likely to fall back on his or her fundamental partisan leanings in deciding whom to support. But the results of ed board races also can be influenced by other factors, such as name ID, the year in which the election occurs, national considerations, and candidates for other offices on the ticket. The figures below attempt to reflect that.
There are four districts — the 3rd, 7th, 8th and 10th — where the partisan advantage for one party or the other is less than 3%. That’s twice as many such districts as exist in the current delegation, where only the 8th and 11th CDs could be deemed “swing” or marginal. That could lead to more “moderation” in the delegation during the next decade — the goal of many “good government” reformers who believe the Congress has become to polarized between ideological extremes.
There are also two ‘open’ districts this year, created by the MICRC but abetted by one retirement and a number of residential moves by incumbents:
Partisan Composition of New U.S. House Districts
Blend of Mean Democratic Educational Board Vote Over Four (4) Elections (2014, 2016, 2018 and 2020)
District 13: OPEN (Democratic Base %: 73.1%);
District 12: Incumbent Democrat — Tlaib (Democratic Base %: 72.5%); District 6: Incumbent Democrat — Dingell (Democratic Base %: 62.1%); District 11: Incumbent Democrat — A. Levin/Stevens (Democratic Base %: 59.8%); District 8 (Incumbent Democrat — Kildee (Democratic Base %: 51.8%);
District 3: Republican Incumbent — P. Meijer (Democratic Base %: 51.1%);
District 10: OPEN (Democratic Base %: 50.8%); District 7: Incumbent Democrat — Slotkin (Democratic Base %: 49.5%);
District 4: Incumbent Republican — Huizenga (Democratic Base 45.8%); District 1 — Bergman (Democratic Base %: 40.3%); District 11: Incumbent Republican — Walberg (Democratic Base %: 38.5%); District 9: Incumbent Republican — McClain (Democratic Base %: 37.4%); District 2: Incumbent Republican — Moolenaar (Democratic Base %: 35.1%).