Analysis: New legislative districts retain slight GOP edge
Minnesota’s new legislative maps rolled out this week will put millions of Minnesotans — and dozens of lawmakers — into new districts. But they won’t change the Legislature’s electoral status quo: a mostly competitive landscape where Republicans have a modest advantage in the quest for majorities.
The new maps adjust legislative boundaries to equalize the number of people in each district after a decade of population change. Faster-growing areas saw their district boundaries contract to shed excess residents, while slower-growing areas grew to pick up additional people.
Overall more than two-thirds of Minnesotans will now find themselves in different legislative districts. Because Minnesota requires lawmakers to live in the districts they represent, plenty of representatives and senators will now find themselves sharing a district with another incumbent lawmaker.
But the maps probably won’t make a big difference in this fall’s battle for control of the Legislature. In total, the new boundaries put Democrats in a better position in a handful of House districts, and tilt a Senate seat or two toward the Republicans. Overall, both chambers remain roughly competitive, winnable by either party depending on the political environment.
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For example, in the 2020 presidential election, Democrat Joe Biden beat Republican Donald Trump in 77 out of the 134 new House districts. That puts Democrats in a good position — or would, if 2022’s political climate were similar to 2020’s, when Biden won Minnesota comfortably.
But if the electorate is just a couple of percentage points friendlier to Republicans, the picture changes completely. In a closely divided environment like the 2016 election — when Democrat Hillary Clinton barely won Minnesota — a majority of House districts favor Republicans.
The picture is similar in the Senate, except that Republicans are in an even better position there. Biden won in just over half of the 67 new Senate districts (though Republicans won control of the Senate anyway, by out-performing Trump in several districts). But in the more Republican-friendly environment of 2016, Trump won a majority of the legislative districts.
Depending on the political environment, either party is capable of winning majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate. But Republicans have a mild edge based on how each party’s voters are currently distributed. The most heavily Democratic parts of the state, in the Twin Cities metro area, can give Democrats 80 or 90 percent of the vote. Republican strongholds, in contrast, are only around 65 to 75 percent GOP.
Democrats have won every statewide race in Minnesota for more than a decade on the basis of landslides in the metro area. But when it comes to winning a majority of legislative districts, those landslides effectively represent wasted votes, and Republicans have regularly won legislative elections despite getting shut out in statewide races.
In fact, Republicans have won Senate majorities the past two elections despite their legislative candidates getting fewer statewide votes than DFL candidates.
As a result, if past trends continue, Democrats will likely need to win the statewide vote by at least several percentage points this fall if they want to have a good chance to win control of the Legislature. Republicans, with their mild edge, can probably win majorities even with slightly less than half of the votes.