Who Do Majority-Minority Districts Help The Most?
I’ve read a few pieces recently (here, here and here) generally from liberals discussing the Voting Rights Act, and specifically majority-minority districts that are often times gerrymandered with the express purpose of electing a minority (in Mississippi, we are talking about African-Americans). A minority doesn’t always end up getting elected but a Democrat does (except under very extreme circumstances).
As I have mentioned there are 39 such seats in the state House and 12 in the state Senate. But let’s first look at the four Congressional seats in Mississippi. As you likely know, there is one majority-minority district (the Second) which has a black voting age population in the neighborhood of 63 percent. That number ranges from 22-33 percent in the other three (soon to be Republican-held) districts. Interestingly, the Third has the highest black population among those three even though it considered the most Republican district in the state.
Over time, the Second was created to elect a black Congressman (at the time Mississippi had five districts). Republican Webb Franklin held on for a couple elections in the early 1980s, but eventually lost to Mike Espy in 1986 as he became the first black Congressman from Mississippi since Reconstruction.
The Second has been home to an African-American (Democrat) since that time. I feel confident in predicting that will be the case for the foreseeable future.
While liberals generally applaud this as a positive, do these districts hurt Democrats overall? Think about this: If you’re a Democrat would you rather have one majority-black district or three districts that are in the neighborhood of 40 percent plus African-American?
We know the Second as it is currently drawn will guarantee a black Democrat, but a district at 40 percent black stands a very good chance of electing a (probably white) Democrat similar to a Travis Childers although probably less conservative. But at the same time, there is also a chance of electing a Republican. Mike Parker was able to win re-election in the old Fourth (about 40 percent African-American) with ease after switching to the Republican Party.
Democrats could probably make a similar case in the state legislature. Many Democrat represent districts that are 70 or 80 percent black where Haley Barbour struggled to win a quarter of the vote as he was winning in the neighborhood of 59 percent statewide. As I’ve said it guarantees the election of a Democrat (usually black), but perhaps some of the black vote would help Democrats in neighboring districts or counties.
Without doing much research, including looking at where specific precincts are located and the black voting population of each, here are a couple examples from the state House to drive home my points. Rep. Ed Blackmon (D-Canton), who was a big part of the creation of majority-minority districts 20 years ago, represents a district (HD 57) that is 76 percent black according to 2000 census numbers. Directly to the west of his district is HD 56, which is represented by Rep. Philip Gunn (R-Clinton). It has a black population of just 16 percent. If you’re a Democrat would you mind lowering the black percentage of any of Blackmon’s district to increase it in Gunn’s (knowing you may knock off Gunn but you may also cost Blackmon his job)?
Note: Here is a piece I wrote in June titled “Does Gerrymandering Set Potential Black Candidates Back?“