It is alleged that the practice of gerrymandering —dividing election districts into units to favor a particular group— subverts democracy by making congressional districts “safe” for one party or the other. As a result, only those voting in primaries are in effect choosing our representatives. Are primary voters more extreme in their views, and therefore pulling democrats to the left and republicans to the right? Or is the impact of gerrymandering actually overblown, while other more divisive contributing factors like the emergence of ideologically charged TV and radio outlets, the role of the internet and social network “echo chambers,” and campaign finance practices are in fact the real drivers of increasing partisanship? If gerrymandering is a major problem, is there policy or constitutional principles that might be part of the solution?
Presented in partnership with the National Constitution Center
For the motion
President, American Constitution Society & Author, Under the Bus
Caroline Fredrickson joined the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) in 2009 and serves as president. She is author of Under the... Read More
Publisher, Connecticut Mirror & Former Editor-in-Chief, Salon
David Daley is the former editor-in-chief of Salon and the Digital Media Fellow for the Wilson Center for Humanities and the Arts and the Grady School... Read More
Against the motion
Professor of Politics, Princeton University & Author, Political Bubbles
Nolan McCarty is the Susan Dod Brown Professor of Politics and Public Affairs and chair of the Department of Politics at Princeton University. Read More
By isolating like-minded voters in the same congressional districts, gerrymandering creates a class of highly partisan elected officials that reject compromise and promote ideological extremes to appease their constituents.
With established “safe” congressional districts, state and national party resources can be pooled for more competitive districts, creating campaign battle grounds that foster partisan divide in what would otherwise be small, local races.
The practice of “cracking” spreads opposing party voters throughout districts, putting them in the minority. This suppresses ideological diversity and ensures that these voters' voices are drowned out.
Against The Motion
The polarizing impact of gerrymandering is nominal, and other issues are the real drivers of extreme views in politics.
Many districts that strongly favor one party over another are the result of sorting, where individuals choose to live among the like-minded.
The success of longtime politicians has less to do with gerrymandering and more to do with the inherent benefits of running as an incumbent.
The partisan goal of gerrymandering isn’t to create a few completely safe districts, but as many competitive districts as possible for the majority party. This creates more ideologically diverse districts, not ideologically isolated districts.