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AP analysis: Partisan redistricting limited GOP losses in 2018 midterms

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With two major cases over partisan redistricting coming before the Supreme Court, how could the AP’s coverage stand out?

Missouri-based reporter David Lieb of the state government team provided the answer. As he had done after the 2016 elections, Lieb took the results of last year’s midterm election and applied a formula called the “efficiency gap” to measure the potential effects of highly partisan map-making on U.S. House races and state legislatures. The efficiency gap, developed at the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California and The University of Chicago, measures a party’s advantage on a statewide basis.

His finding: Democrats could have done even better last November had it not been for boundaries created by Republicans during the last round of redistricting – otherwise known as “gerrymandering.” His analysis showed that Republicans won about 16 more U.S. House seats than would have been expected based on their share of the vote. For state House chambers,the analysis showed that Republicans’ structural advantage might have helped them hold on to as many as seven chambers that otherwise could have flipped to Democrats,including some where Republicans won a majority of seats even though Democrats won a majority of the total votes.

Lieb and Data Team editor Meghan Hoyer made the state-by-state findings available to customers and other AP reporters ahead of time and explained them in a webinar so the data could be used for localizations. The resulting story package landed the week before the Supreme Court arguments, and the play was spectacular.

Lieb’s national story and various sidebars won extensive play online,including the New York Times,with heavy social media engagement. In print,Lieb’s story – or a state sidebar produced by an AP statehouse reporter – ran on more than two dozen front pages,including in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Other papers, including The Detroit News,produced their own staff-written stories,crediting the AP data. In addition, Lieb’s analysis was cited in a USA Today op-ed previewing the gerrymandering cases.

The package was complemented by video and photos from national enterprise reporter Allen Breed,based in Raleigh,who traveled to a historically black college in North Carolina,one of the states whose case was before the high court. He showed how Republicans had split the campus during map drawing (literally down the middle of a street) and how that had diluted the votes of the left-leaning student body.

Breed’s full-length video ran with the spot stories surrounding the Supreme Court arguments and parts of it were folded into a video graphic produced by New York deputy director for digital graphics Darrell Allen and Minneapolis-based video graphics newsperson Heidi Morrow. Their piece combined Breed’s video with a first-person explanation by Lieb and animated graphics to show what gerrymandering is and how it can affect the outcome of elections. It became a key part of the extensive social promotion plan created by Alina Hartounian,the Phoenix-based multimedia coordinator for the beat teams,that propelled the online play. Hartounian was lso instrumental in editing Breed’s video.

For producing a distinctive multimedia package that made the AP stand out on one of the most important and competitive political topics of the day,Lieb,Hoyer,Breed,Allen, Morrow and Hartounian win this week’s Best of the States.

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