Thursday, June 01, 2006

Get Your Facts Straight

Over at The New Republic, John Friedman and Richard Holden have an interesting article up called "The Gerrymandering Myth". Title notwithstanding, it actually deals with a very narrow question: is gerrymandering the reason incumbent re-election rates are so high? And they answer that no, the culprit is actually increased media saturation and big money.

This is a tremendously silly article. For starters, I don't think anyone in the anti-gerrymandering crowd disputes that media penetration and big money have an large effect on incumbent re-election rates. We just think gerrymandering has an effect too. Second, they completely misunderstand the political calculus that goes into gerrymandering. It isn't just about keeping incumbents in office. It's about keeping your incumbents in office and kicking out the opposing party. Friedman and Holden claim that incumbent re-election rates actually go down in the years immediately after redistricting. But that just proves the point: gerrymandering targets vulnerable incumbents from the opposing party, they're kicked out, your new guys entrench (and your veterans re-entrench), and everything settles down by mid-decade. And third, since the authors admit gerrymandering is bad for other reasons, I don't understand the point. At best, they've shown me that we need broader based reforms than just on the redistricting issue, something which I really didn't need persuading on.

More disturbingly, the authors seem to have serious trouble with basic facts. When talking about the prevalence of gerrymandering (in the obligatory "both parties are at fault" section), they write that "in Massachusetts and Maryland...Republicans (who make up nearly 40 percent of both states' populations) account for just 1 of 19 House members."

The problem is that a) together, Maryland and Massachusetts have 18 representatives, not 19, b) two of them are Republicans, not one (specifically, Maryland has two Republicans out of its eight delegates), and c) Republican voter registration is 15% in Massachusetts and 30% in Maryland (with Democrats at 40% and 55%, respectively), which is significantly less than 40% of both state's populations.

I suppose there could be differences in measuring how many GOPers there are, but the former two errors are simply boneheaded. Take what you will.

1 comment:

jack said...

David, I don't disagree with anything you say here. I just wonder if reform is at all concievable. Neither party will stop gerrymandering on their own because if either party stops gerrymandering they'll be stuck in permanent minority status. Congress sure as hell isn't going to screw themselves over.

Could something come down from the courts? What would the law/ruling look like?