“The Divided States of America”

Must-read Lee Drutman NYT oped:

Reading the nonstop coverage of what may well be a close presidential election, one might be forgiven for thinking that political competition is alive and well in America.

But look at the majority of states and congressional races, and a different picture emerges: In most places, meaningful two-party electoral competition is nonexistent. Rather than being one two-party nation, we are becoming two one-party nations.

Most large cities, college towns, the Northeast and the West Coast are deep-blue Democratic. Ruby-red Republican strongholds take up most of the South, the Great Plains, the Mountain States and the suburban and rural areas in between. Rather than compete directly against each other, both parties increasingly occupy their separate territories, with diminishing overlap and disappearing common accountability. They hear from very different constituents, with very different priorities. The minimal electoral incentives they do face all push toward nurturing, rather than bridging, those increasingly wide divisions….

While gerrymandering may explain some of the noncompetitiveness of House races, it can’t explain the Senate or the Electoral College. No amount of nonpartisan redistricting can overcomethe fundamental disconnect between place-based, winner-take-all elections and polarized, geographically separated parties.

Competition is even rarer these days in state legislatures, where 43 percent of candidates did not face a major party opponent in 2014, and fewer than one in 20 races was decided by five percentage points or less. That made 2014 one of the most uncompetitive state-election years in decades.

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