Busting More Gerrymandering Myths

Andrew Gelman says that not only is gerrymandering not the cause of partisan polarization, it doesn’t even really make seats safer:

I can’t disagree with Cohen’s first sentence above, but I part company with him after that. When Gary and I looked at the data, we found that redistricting (“gerrymandering”) was not associated with a decline in competitiveness of elections in Congress or state legislatures. Legislative elections have been gradually becoming less competitive, but they are typically more competitive after redistricting.

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I’m glad to learn of this empirical result, because I never really understood the theoretical basis of the gerrymander/uncompetitiveness link. Any constituency, no matter how you draw it, is going to have a median voter to whom one can appeal. The shape of the district ought to alter what kind of candidates are viable, but never make it impossible to field viable candidates. I would say that the biggest impediment to competitive elections is fundraising issues. If you had a public financing system that guaranteed a fully funded campaign to the major party nominees in every district, a lot of “safe” seats would suddenly start looking less safe, since it would make sense for both parties to do their best to find candidates well-suited to every district. And that, of course, is why we’re unlikely to see public financing of congressional campaigns.