Monday, October 14, 2013

The Left Exaggerate Republican Gerrymandering of 2011 in Shutdown Role

Gerrymandering is among the weak spots in our constitutional system of government. Although it wasn’t intended or foreseen by the Framers of the Constitution, it popped up pretty early.

Anyway, skipping ahead two centuries, Democrats are understandably annoyed that despite the fact that Dem House candidates nationally received more aggregate votes than Repub candidates, the Republicans maintained a solid 234-201 majority.

Successful Republican gerrymandering had something to do with it, but gerrymandering  alone is not only or primarily in producing that result is often overstated.

During the current shutdown mess, some liberals have embraced a second, related theory suggesting that not only did the Republican gerrymandering manage to cobble together a majority of House seats out of a minority of House votes, but they also managed to create a large number of safe red districts packed with voters who are so far right that they produce congressmen who are either right-wing hardliners or have to act like they are to fend off a Tea Party primary challenge.

The goal of gerrymandering is to maximize the number of districts that are barely safe enough by packing as many of your opponents' voters as you can into a small number of extremely partisan districts while safely distributing the rest throughout your own districts. In this way, gerrymandering may actually increase the number of moderate Republicans.

So there's a problem in believing that gerrymandering inflated the number of House Republicans, while also thinking that gerrymandering increased the number of ultraconservative, Tea Party Republicans. That may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t be. In many respects, the GOP’s divide between relative moderates and ultraconservatives also cuts across geographic and partisan lines. In the fiscal cliff, for instance, northern, blue state Republicans were far more likely to vote for the Senate compromise than their red state, Southern counterparts. And the number of northern Republicans has been meaningfully inflated by GOP-led redistricting efforts in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Ohio. Without GOP-led redistricting in those blue or purple states, the inevitably conservative Republicans in red states, locked into ultraconservative districts by (let's call it like it is) racial polarization and the Voting Rights Act, would constitute an even larger share of a somewhat smaller GOP caucus, making it even more difficult to reach compromises like the fiscal cliff deal for instance. It would be more difficult to resolve the government shutdown or debt ceiling debacle.

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