We really don’t need any scientific research to prove to us that Republicans do not care about democracy. Pretty much every Republican-controlled state has laws on the books that make it extremely difficult to vote and pretty much most of them cried fraud—falsely—when Donald Trump lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.
But having scientific evidence does help when we want to cite how bad the GOP is.
University of Washington professor Jake Grumbach created a quantitative measure of democratic health at the state level here in the United States. Grumbach looks at all 50 states in the union between 2000 and 2018 to determine why some became more democratic over that time and others less democratic. And, of course, the Republican Party doesn’t like democracy and Grumbach’s measure proves it.
The measuring tool functions very much like those Transparency International uses to score levels of democracy across the world.
Vox spoke with Grumbach about his research, which is believed to be the first tool used to measure democracy in the United States. His scale measures the degree to which a state is gerrymandered at the federal level, if it permits same-day voter registration, whether people convicted of felonies can vote and a state’s Black incarceration rate.
Here is how he scored the states, per Vox.
To turn these metrics into an actual score, Grumbach uses a process that’s part subjective and part algorithmic.
The subjective part strives to determine whether an individual practice, like voter ID laws, is helpful or harmful to democracy. Grumbach then uses an algorithm to determine how much each of these practices should count toward a state’s overall score, either negatively or positively. This automated process ended up downplaying the criminal justice metrics, which barely factor into a state’s ultimate score. By contrast, the algorithm gave significant weight to electoral practices like gerrymandering (negative) and same-day registration (positive).
With a system in hand, Grumbach then proceeded to score all 50 states in every year between 2000 and 2018, from -3 (worst) to 2 (best).
Georgia ranks high in the most anti-Democratic states, along with North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Wisconsin. Back in 2000 these states’ anti-democracy rates were not as high as they are now. The main reason is Republicans won more control in those states than before.
Grumbach’s paper is most impactful when it highlights gerrymandering:
Drawing lines to give your party a leg up disproportionate to its numbers is one of those practices that no one can really defend in democratic terms. Elected authoritarians abroad, like Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, have abused gerrymanders to ensure that they maintain a hammerlock on national power despite winning less than a majority of national votes.
The SDI shows that, in the United States, gerrymandering is not a “both sides” problem. It uses 16 different measurements of gerrymandering to assess how prevalent the tactic is in different states; 10 of these measures are the most heavily weighted factors in a state’s ultimate democracy score. These metrics show that Republican legislators abuse gerrymandering in a way that Democrats simply do not.
Some of this abuse has happened quite recently. Take a look at North Carolina’s SDI score over time — it starts to plunge shortly after Republicans drew new maps in 2011, ones that allowed them to win 77 percent of the state’s House seats in 2018 with just under 50 percent of the state vote.
The paper has not been peer reviewed yet, so there are plenty of methodological holes critics may wish to poke in it, but Grumbach is definitely on to something.