“All the Pretty Little Districts: Why You Need to Stop Whining About Gerrymandering”

Jonathan Bernstein:

Of all the good-government obsessions that keep people focused on process instead of substance, one of the very worst—and I know that lots of you reading this share it—is over the “unfairness” of how congressional district lines are drawn. Within that overrated problem, there’s nothing worse than the obsession with pretty and ugly districts. Really: let it go. If you care about politics and public policy, find something else to worry about.

This paragraph of polite rage is brought to you by a current feature over at Slate ridiculing funny shaped House districts—such as one in Maryland which, as Chris Kirk tells us, has been called “’a crazy quilt,’ ‘a blood spatter from a crime scene,’ and a ‘broken-winged pterodactyl, lying prostrate across the center of the state.’”

Kirk brings us through the most successful partisan gerrymanders of the last cycle—Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, and a few more. And it’s true: In a handful of states, partisan gerrymanders really did cost Democrats (or, in a few others, Republicans) a few seats in the House.

Overall, however, political scientists like John Sides and Eric McGhee have found that gerrymandering is not a big deal, at least as far as partisan effect is concerned. It is true that current districts help Republicans, but that appears to be primarily because of where Democrats and Republicans live, not because of cleverly drawn lines. That is, because Democrats tend to clump together more closely, it’s extremely hard in many states to draw any lines (and particularly lines for compact districts) which do not give Republicans a little edge.


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