Don't blame gerrymandering for our political paralysis

The Week's Editorial Staff
The WeekFebruary 5, 2013
President Obama's view on gerrymandering may be common, but it's also wrong, says John Sides.

Lots of smart people will tell you rigged congressional districts are at the root of our dysfunctional government. Political scientist John Sides says they're wrong

The federal government is pretty unpopular. And a lot of very smart people blame the frustrating gridlock and hyper-partisan bickering on gerrymandering, or the rigging of congressional districts to create "a bunch of safe seats for each party, making representatives responsive only to their partisan base and unwilling to forge bipartisan compromises," says George Washington University political scientist John Sides at The Washington Post. Well, these people are wrong, argues Sides. "It would be nice if this view were true, because it would suggest a clear solution to our polarized politics: Draw more competitive districts." But our real problem is that members of Congress, to an unusual degree, vote with their party, regardless of what their constituents want. Here's an excerpt:

Members are more partisan than even voters in their party.... No matter whether Obama won 20 percent or 50 percent of their district, Republican representatives have voted similarly — that is, they have taken conservative positions on average. No matter whether Obama won 50 percent or 80 percent of their district, Democratic representatives have taken liberal positions, on average. Constituency hasn’t affected anyone's overall voting behavior that much....

What about the Senate? Same thing. Just think of states with split delegations. How ideologically similar are, say, Chuck Grassley and Tom Harkin?... In sum, Democrats and Republicans are just polarized, no matter whether their district is red, blue or purple. It's hard to imagine that creating more competitive districts will mitigate polarization. Members in purple districts are pretty polarized, too.

Read the entire article at The Washington Post.

SEE ALSO: Why pundits should stop blaming 'the media'

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