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Redistricting Moneyball: Nebraska!

October 23rd, 2020, 8:59am by Sam Wang


We have an unexpected new Redistricting Moneyball state: Nebraska!

The Nebraska legislature will affect the redrawing of Congressional districts, which matters both for the House and also for the Presidency. How’d we figure it out, and how can you help in the final days of the campaign?

Analyzing Nebraska was harder than other states. The legislative chamber (there’s only one, called the “unicameral”) is nominally non-partisan. However, we figured out a way to make it work.

The unicameral’s members, called senators, are nominally non-partisan. However, nearly every one of them is affiliated with the Democrats or the Republicans. It’s a strongly Republican body. But like the United States Senate (for now anyway), a two-thirds vote is required to advance legislation. Currently, Democrats have enough votes to force bipartisan compromises – and it appears they have a good chance to keep things that way.

To figure this out, we first had to identify partisan affiliations. Then, using district ratings, we estimate an 83% probability of maintaining bipartisanship. Since we define the 15% to 85% range as the zone of uncertainty, Nebraska is therefore a Moneyball state.

Partisan gerrymandering is possible whenever there are at least three districts – and that’s the size of Nebraska’s Congressional delegation. The 2nd Congressional District, encompassing Omaha, is currently a swing district. Indeed, it may vote for Biden over Trump this year. That’s significant because Nebraska awards electors by congressional district. So keeping the 2nd District competitive has consequences both for Congress and for the White House.

Nebraska is now added to the list of the Moneyball states. You can find top Nebraska candidates on the candidate list for ActBlue. And as always, other Moneyball states where Republican wins can bring about bipartisanship are listed in the WinRed link.

Tags: Redistricting

5 Comments so far ↓

  • Christian Crumlish

    OT: has the house meta margin data stopped updating since mid October?

    • Sam Wang

      Yes, sorry about that. It broke when we added Mississippi to the Senate calculation, which crashed graphics generation before getting to the House calculation. Should be fixed now.

  • 538_Refugee

    Is Mike Espy making the Mississippi senate race interesting?

  • Dan

    The Nebraska constitution requires its congressional districts to be contiguous, compact, and follow county lines wherever possible. So the 2nd Congressional District (the only one that’s competitive) has to encompass Douglas County, which contains Omaha. The most trickery that can be attempted is deciding which side of Sarpy County to start from to add to it, as one end of Sarpy County contains slightly more Republicans than the other. (The legislature switched the side in 2010 ostensibly for this reason.) Given Omaha’s population growth, though, I’d expect even less of Sarpy County to be included in the 2nd District this time around. A gerrymander in Nebraska isn’t really feasible in practice.

    Plus, despite the fact that state senators have party affiliations, the state has significant nonpartisan norms, and the Nebraska Legislature frequently behaves in unexpected ways compared with overtly partisan ones. So it shouldn’t necessarily be expected that the Legislature would gerrymander even if it could do.

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