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Gerrymandering Is Destroying the Political Center

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  • Does the Shrinking Center Cause Gerrymandering?

    Clip: Debaters David Daley and Chris Jankowski discuss whether a shrinking political center increases gerrymandering, rather than the other way around.

  • The Gerrymandering Narrative

    Clip: Debaters David Daley, Caroline Fredrickson, and Nolan McCarty consider whether a popular belief that gerrymandering results in unrepresentative government is itself causing greater political polarization.

  • Politicians Do Not Represent the Center

    Clip: Debaters David Daley and Caroline Fredrickson argue that low turnout primaries and uncompetitive general elections elect politicians who do not represent the political center.

  • States Without Gerrymandering

    Clip: Caroline Fredrickson argues that congressional districts designed by nonpartisan committees experience less political polarization than those that are gerrymandered.

  • The Mapmaker's Mission

    Clip: David Daley explains how better data and technology has made gerrymandering so much more effective in the past decade.

  • Long-Term Political Trends

    Clip: Nolan McCarty argues that long-term cultural and demographic trends are responsible for political polarization, not gerrymandering.

Debate Details

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

The Debaters

For the motion

Caroline Fredrickson

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

David Daley

Publisher, Connecticut Mirror & Author, Ratf**ked

David Daley is the publisher of the Connecticut Mirror, former editor-in-chief of Salon, and the digital media fellow for the Wilson Center for... Read More

Against the motion

Nolan McCarty

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

Chris Jankowski

Republican Strategist & former Executive Director, REDMAP Project

Chris Jankowski is a leading Republican strategist in state elections, state policy issues, and state government. In 2010 Jankowski served as the... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • 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. 
 

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The Research

The Research

The House the GOP Built: How Republicans Used Soft Money, Big Data, and High-Tech Mapping to Take Control of Congress and Increase Partisanship

April 24, 2016

GOP control of the House is safe until 2021. But it came with a heavy price -- an empowered base and Donald Trump.

Hate our polarized politics? Why you can’t blame gerrymandering.

October 26, 2016

But before succumbing to the notion that jiggered legislative districts are at the root of America’s gridlock and divisiveness, it is worth considering the proposition that I, my co-authors and the many political scientists who have studied the effect of gerrymandering on polarization are not nuts.

The Twisted History of Gerrymandering in American Politics

Emily Barasch
September 19, 2012

Outlandish districts created for electoral gain are a major distorting force in the contemporary U.S., but they belong to a long tradition.

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