Nate Cohn and gerrymandering: The Big Sort fallacy, continued.

The Big Sort Fallacy, Continued

The Big Sort Fallacy, Continued

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 8 2014 5:18 PM

The Big Sort Fallacy, Continued

One reason that I wasted so much of your time on this post about Nate Cohn's latest gerrymandering piece was that New York Times "takes" tend to become part of the punditocracy's songbook. Why do Republicans have a lock on the House? Some say that gerrymandering plays a role, but Even the New York Times says this role is underrated.

Seth Mandel proved me right today with a post urging Paul Krugman to read Cohn and learn the falseness of the gerrymandering "myth." Mandel adds his own analysis, which boils down to "Dems traded away competitiveness in rural areas to win more actual votes from people who live in cities, for some reason" (my paraphrase), and quotes this from Cohn:

The political scientists Jowei Chen, of the University of Michigan, and Jonathan Rodden, of Stanford University, estimate that gerrymandering costs Democrats about six to eight seats in the House. Even so, “by far the most important factor contributing to the Republican advantage,” Mr. Chen says, “is the natural geographic factor of Democrats’ being overwhelmingly concentrated in these urban districts, especially in states like Michigan and Florida.”

But "by far the most important factor" is not a synonym for "the only important factor." Just two weeks ago, that same Jowei Chen talked to MSNBC's Benjy Sarlin for a story about the Democratic Party's campaign to win the next round of redistricting, and clarified that mapmakers can do any damn thing they please, no matter where voters are clustered.

The best way to judge the potential gains might be to look at the few states where Democrats have been able to implement their own partisan gerrymanders. At the top of the list is Illinois, a state not entirely dissimilar to Michigan in size, demographics, and geography. Unlike Michigan, though, Democrats controlled the redistricting process after 2010 and paired some Democratic-heavy neighborhoods in the Chicago area with Republican-leaning suburbs to maximize their voters’ impact. They now hold 12 seats in Congress versus 6 for Republicans.
“It’s exactly what Democrats would love to do in Michigan if they could,” Chen told msnbc. “Anything is geographically possible if you can go crazy with the map the way Illinois has.”

This was what I was trying to prove by spotlighting Maryland's Democratic-drawn maps. Personally, I'm with the good-government nerds who think politicians should not be able to choose their own voters, and that redistricting should be handled by sober adults/retired judges/whoever will not be running. I'd just add that you assume a lot when you declare that a map that concentrates urban voters in very few districts is "normal," and one that uses them to create competitive seats is abnormal. Just look at the Ohio map that was used from 2001 to 2011, which sent a mostly Republican delegation to Washington until Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008. (Via the Toledo Blade.)


Here's the map that'll endure till 2021.

Notice the new 3rd District? That captures all the Democratic parts of Columbus, whereas the old map split that among a few seats. Notice how the formerly compact 1st now looks like a diving bat? That's because Republicans wanted to dilute Democratic strength in Cincinnati. Notice how the new 9th stretches all the way into Cuyahoga County? That was done to force now-Rep. Marcy Kaptur into a primary with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, whom she defeated. If you think part of Cleveland and all of Toledo were shoved into the same district because of the Big Sort, you're not paying attention.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.