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Sunday, October 23, 2016

by Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole and Howard Rosenthal

Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) — What if we told you that the gerrymandering of congressional districts has nothing to do with political polarization in Washington? Gerrymandering didn’t have anything to do with the shutdown, or the battles over the debt ceiling, or Obamacare. In fact, the accepted view that politically based redistricting led to our state of intransigence isn’t just incorrect; it’s silly.

The real reason for our increasingly divided political system is much simpler: The right wing of the Republican Party has embraced a fundamentalist version of free-market capitalism and succeeded in winning elections. (The Democrats have moved to the left, but less so.)

The Republican shift is the result of several factors. The realignment of Southern white voters into the Republican Party, the branch of conservative activism created by Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and the party’s increasingly firm stance on issues such as income inequality and immigration, can all be important to Republicans’ rightward shift.

The “blame it on the gerrymanders” argument mistakenly assumes that because redistricting created more comfortable seats for each party, polarization became inevitable. Our research, however, casts serious doubt on that idea.

The most important element affecting polarization in the House of Representatives is the divergent approaches that Democrats and Republicans take to representing districts that are otherwise similar in terms of demographics and presidential voting. Even in moderate districts, Democratic representatives are still very liberal and Republican representatives are very conservative. This reflects a widening ideological gap, not different lines on a map.

Consider, for example, the rise of the mastermind of the shutdown, Senator Ted Cruz. The Texas Republican won his seat, as does every member of the Senate, in a statewide race, without any benefit from gerrymandering. The same is true for other Tea Party stalwarts in the Senate such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah.

The analysts who are wedded to the view that gerrymandering is at the root of the congressional impasse argue that rancor spread to the Senate from the House. Yet it could also be argued that the force-feeding has run in the other direction, that it was Cruz who stimulated adamancy among Tea Party conservatives in the House, leading to the standoff.

As for the shifting ideology of the House, political scientists have demonstrated that whenever a congressional seat switches parties, the voting record of the new member is very different from that of the departing member, increasing polarization. In other words, it is becoming more common to observe a very liberal Democrat replaced by a very conservative Republican (and vice versa).

Such a shift happened in Minnesota. In 2010, one of the liberal giants in the House, Jim Oberstar, was defeated by former Navy pilot Chip Cravaack. As a congressman, Cravaack compiled a reliably conservative voting record and even supported Michele Bachmann’s bid for a House leadership position. But in 2012, Cravaack was defeated by Rick Nolan, a liberal Democrat. So in the course of four years, Minnesota’s 8th District swung from liberal to conservative back to liberal. Gerrymandering can’t explain this pattern of turnover.

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Copyright 2013 The National Memo
  • elw

    BS if I ever heard it.

  • docb

    You went all around the bush to prove that gerrymandering and the tea party are the cause…’older white southern voters’????

  • JD Mulvey

    This “analysis” is terrible.

    I do agree that the impact of gerrymandering has been overstated by progressives. It actually is a very short-sighted strategy by the Republicans, and I would have liked to read a serious discussion of the subject from Bloomberg (who I generally respect).

    This is just a list of the usual right wing canards –The Democrats have moved to the left? Really? No serious political analyst believes that.

    • disqus_fsqeoY3FsG

      I disagree that the impact of Gerrymandering has been overstated. If Gerrymandering did not provide an advantage or solidify their position, than why do it.
      Gerrymandering is a way to segregate those who think like you, look like you and have the same religious beliefs as you. You are excluding or disenfranchising those with an opposing point of view. I believe Gerrymandered Districts should be challenged as a violation of Civil Rights. I do not believe either party should be Gerrymandering. Politicians should represent districts that also reflect the makeup of our Country. When they go to Congress they have to represent the interests of their constituents and balance that with the interests of the Nation. What works and is good for Idaho may not be good for Nevada, New York, New Jersey etc. Redistricting should be done by a non-partisan committee.

      • Robert Haugh

        I’m 100% in agreement with everything you have stated. I have been openly advocating for the Justice dept. to take actions in federal courts, to achieve a reversal of the redrawn districts in gerrymandered states, These lines were drawn to deny representation in congress, to a wide majority of voters in these states, so that a narrow, carefully selected minority, could bring about the desired results. Someone is going to have to explain to me why this is not a prosecutable offense.

  • halslater

    I agree that this is not an analysis but a collection of anecdotes that prove or mean nothing. I do think gerrymandering increases polarization and the current situation shows that it is a poor strategy, resulting in a group of people that will not be moderated for the good of the whole. That is what the GOP gets when they want to rule, not govern.

  • Bill Thompson

    Gerrymandering has everything to do with the situation we are presently in. This is how it works corporate interests Target to congressional districts. They run the candidate of their choice in a primary and throw a ton of money at the district. The moderate representative or incumbent loses and they have the lunatic of their choice in place. This has been going on for years and at the time of census they have their candidates well placed throughout the country. Districts are then redraw and the candidates of their choice are almost untouchable. These candidates are then slaves to be a corporate owners.

  • Lovefacts

    IMO, if a candidate can’t win without having his/her district being gerrymandered, then s/he doesn’t deserve his/her seat–this is true for Democrats as well as Republicans. However, in this case, the impact of the 2010 gerrymandering cannot overstated. When districts are drawn so that they reflect only one opinion, the individuals elected have no need to work with the opposition party.

    The key to the successful running of our government has always been the meeting of minds, not my way or the highway. But then, to work together one must work. Unfortunately under Boehner, if the Congress works two days a week, they’re doing heavy lifting. But like the Hastert Rule, the Republicans have not been interested in a representative government for years. It’s been their agenda and only their agenda that matters. And I believe that agenda is to return us to the 1850s when Senators were appointed by state legislatures, women couldn’t vote, minorities knew their place, there was no federal income tax, and big business controlled everything.

  • latebloomingrandma

    If gerrymandering didn’t “work” for the benefit of the party who oversaw it, then how did we end up with a House of Representatives in Republican control, when democrats actually garnered over a million more votes? What is the purpose of having a state’s congressional districts map look like a Rorschach test? Something rotten in Denmark?

  • howa4x

    I believe that the shift is a result of outside groups like Freedom works, Beck, Limbaugh, Coulter, Hannity, and FOX that constantly reinforce a rightwing philosophy in certain cohorts of the population. So older viewers get their news from FOX and younger from the Daley show. while liberals watch MSNBC. Each groups has a group that upholds their values and philosophy. Once the new reapportionment goes into effect that 1.4 million more votes that went against he republicans will count. This is why the right wing wants to dismantle everything they can before that happens.

  • Mystic Lord

    Why even bring up Senate seats in a discussion of gerrymandering when Senate seats cannot be gerrymandered. Why not discuss specifics like how the Republicans gerrymandered Pennsylvania, a state that strongly supported the president, so that it has something like 13 republican Congressman and only 5 democratic?

  • Bern Hall

    Leave a message…Gerrymandering is akin to treason! It sets out to deny or frustrate the will of the majority for the sake of ends not chosen by the people. These actions are Unconstitutional and therefore illegal on more than one level. Perhaps it is the right wing placemen (sorry, stooges) in the Supreme Court and those wild dyed right wing “law enforcement” sheriffs who refuse to do their bounden duty.
    I am a bible believing evangelical christian who cannot believe these people are reading the same bible as me.

    Every time I make this profession I get buried under a tide of bile from people who claim to be Christian. Wolves in wheels clothing…masquerading as angels of light!

  • Sep_Arch

    I believe the writer is missing the point. If the Republicans won 48% of the total vote vs. 51% won by Democrats in congressional elections, yet still control the House, how else does that work except by Gerrymandering? Are the Republicans wasting their time when they redraw district lines? They spend an awful lot of attention on just that, so I would assume it is for a reason.

    To say that sometimes seats in the House and Senate switch from Republican to Democrat has nothing to do with the issue of Gerrymandering and is a distraction. The fact is that without Gerrymandering, Dems would control the House and we could actually pass legislation regardless of the extremeness of the Repub party. Also, someone in a “safe” gerrymandered district must be as extreme as possible, because this is where the truly out-of-control nuts challenge those who are merely conservative and win. None of these tea party candidates would survive in more appropriately drawn districts, they couldn’t appeal to a majority. I wish the author would be more logical and quit trying to make the situation sound better than it is. Reality may be unpleasant, but it shouldn’t be ignored.

    • jointerjohn

      Good observations. The author used some examples of Congressional Districts swinging from a conservative rep to a liberal and back again with no change in apportionment in between, as evidence of his premise. He failed to acknowledge that there is a significant number on non-party-affiliated voters out there who have no idea how government works, and no idea how political philosophies group together to form cohesive policies. These voters swing and sway based on hot-button campaign ads, negative campaigning and flat out lies. They don’t have the faintest idea what they believe in. When most races are decided by less than six percentage points these are the damn dummies who screw up our elections.

  • Bryan Blake

    At first I thought this might be a reasonable premise. But then I remembered that I live in Texas. We have not had remotely ordinary Republicans for over Twenty years. Our Republicans are Grade-A Certified Extremest. Be they Libertarians or right-wing evangelical Christians. I am sure that you remember George W. Bush, the gift from the Texas Republicans that just keeps on and keeps on giving. Being more extreme than the most conservative Democrat they set out to turn Texas into the extremely low wage Right Wing Libertarian Utopia it has become! Gerrymandering has been one of their favorite tools. When Tom DeLay redrew Texas Congressional maps after the redistricting based on the 2000 census and elections had been held there were no consequences for them. Of course George W. Bush was President and his Justice Department did not bother to enforce the Voting Rights Act. While they have their army of Lemmings for cleaning up the bodies serving the rich and ultra-rich must be everyone’s highest priority. In case the Professor from Georgia did not notice, the old Jim Crow attitudes of the Old South never really left. With the looming shift in demographics at the singularity of ushering in a change of the racial and ethnic composition of our country, Gerrymandering is the last desperate refuge of the powerful elite and their white governing class.

    On the national scene there is only one thing that explains the fierce partisan divide that we are living in. President Obama is not a white male. For the last generation, or so, the white Republican establishment thought the first person to shatter the barriers to the Presidency would be a white woman. But when President Obama won the office and became the first nonwhite male to occupy the office the last of the illusions that only they were the rightful heirs to power went up in smoke curling with the smell of sulfur. The sins of their forefathers drives them to charge the change of time itself and that is what burns as the destructive flames of partisanism on the Right!

  • m8lsem

    The logic of this piece goes this way.

    One day the sun rose during a shower. Author A writes about the rain that came during the early morning. Writer B writes, ‘no, the sun was rising in the early morning.’ We are talking about compatible causes.

    Legislators can manipulate boundaries. Let’s say the legislature is dominated by Party B:
    1. Areas where there’s a density of Party A’s voters are identified. ‘Oooooh, bad’
    2. Adjacent areas where there’s a density of the Party B’s voters are identified. ‘Hey, good!’
    3. Let’s us tinker with boundaries.

    Where it will work, we cut up A-strong areas, and make each resulting piece part of a different B-strong area, and tinker with safe areas to come up with the right number of districts. Voila! Next November there’ll be fewer A’s around the Capitol!

    Everything I have just written is fully consistent with our author’s piece above. Compatible causes.

  • m8lsem

    The author is using a variety of fully compatible events to disparage the idea that gerrymandering is a cause of Tea Party Republican strength in legislatures and the Congress. It is wrong to disregard one cause because there are also other(s).