A large part of the appeal of Guinness World Records is the obscurity of the records they track. Indeed, obscurity has always been the point: Ireland’s most famous brewery began publishing the book in 1955 as a way to help settle arcane pub bets.
I may not be very useful if you’re interesting in knowing where the largest collection of Batman memorabilia is located, but I do feel a bit like the Guinness folks when I’m asked about some obscure piece of Indiana political history. Of course, I also relish the opportunity to dig in a little more and provide additional context.
Such was the case last week, when Brian Howey pointed out to me that not a single Congressional district in Indiana has switched parties since our current maps were implemented for the 2012 election. That begs the question: If there is no change in 2020, will that be the first time Indiana has ever witnessed a Congressional map that produced no partisan turnover?
There isn’t quite a straightforward “yes” or “no” answer, which fortunately means I get to dig in and provide some context.
Let’s start here: Over the first decade and a half of our state’s existence, new counties were constantly being formed, and the population was growing and shifting quite a bit. As a result, we were constantly tweaking our Congressional district lines. Additionally, we never had more than three seats in this period, and each basically was a skinny sliver that ran from the Michigan line down to the Ohio River.
What makes these formative years even tougher to judge from a historical perspective is the absence of modern political parties. The Democrat Party as we know it today was essentially organized in 1828 around Andrew Jackson’s presidential campaign. In 1832, a second national party popped up to support Henry Clay in his bid against Jackson and the Democrats. Up to this point, the parties existed solely for the presidential campaigns.
By the mid 1830’s, however, the parties also began to slate candidates for down-ballot races, including congressional races. Around this same time, our county-formation boom was nearing it’s end, and our population had quickly grown enough to bump us from three to seven congressional seats (and we’ve always had at least seven ever since).
All of this means that the congressional maps put in place in 1833 are a great starting point for this exercise. Since that time, we’ve had 21 different maps across 93 different elections. But if you do the math, you’ll quickly notice that just barely averages four elections for each map. So what gives?
For most of our history, we haven’t automatically (and only) drawn new maps after the federal decennial census; that has only been done since the 1972 maps. Prior to that, the timeline for drawing maps wasn’t consistent, and map lifespans ranged anywhere from one to eleven elections.
But even given this irregularity, there are some interesting trends that emerge regarding partisan turnover. We’ll start by throwing out the two maps that were only used for one election, since turnover isn’t possible without at least two elections. Seven maps were in place for only two or three elections (and none for just four). Even then, six of those seven maps saw partisan turnover. The map in place for the elections of 1896, 1898, and 1900 is the only one of this group that saw no turnover.
Eight more maps (not including our current map) were in place for five elections, but we’ll come back to them momentarily. The long-lasting maps are worth looking at first, because they were as volatile as the short terms maps. One map was in place for eight elections, and another one for ten elections. Neither of them ever went more than two elections (just four years) without some partisan turnover. An additional map was in place for eleven elections, and it never went more than three elections (six years) without turnover. So whether short or long, it would be unusual for Indiana to see more than two or three elections in a row with the same partisan results.
And what about those five-election maps we’re used to now? The same trend largely holds. Of the eight in place before 2012, four of them saw partisan turnover in every single election (maps from 1833, 1843, 1901, and 1972). Three more never went more than two elections (four years) without at least one seat changing parties (1931, 1981, and 2001). That only leaves one: The maps drawn in 1991, which saw a Republican wave in 1994 that never receded and produced the same partisan results in each district from 1994-2000.
That four-election span was the only time prior to 2012-2018 that Indiana had seen such a streak. That means that not only are the current maps currently in a tie for that record, but they have a chance to break the record in 2020. But to answer our original question: It would mark only the second time that Indiana witnessed a Congressional map with no partisan turnover–but the first time that a map in place for more than three elections achieved the feat.
Of course, the stories of these sorts maps aren’t all about the numbers. There are some fascinating stories about quickly abandoned experiments with at-large Congressional districts; the General Assembly’s refusal to draw maps for forty years to preserve power for rural legislators; and the constant legal battles that saw Indiana draw dozens of maps in the 1960’s and early 1970’s, among others.
I look forward to telling some of those stories over the next year-and-a-half as we prepare to see new maps once again. In the meantime, you can see every version of Indiana’s historical congressional maps on the Maps section of the website. And if you’re really curious: According to Guinness, the world’s largest collection of Batman memorabilia is located in Indianapolis.