The Subtle Effect of Gerrymandering on the State of Politics

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A long standing tradition in politics, gerrymandering has become much debated over the years, especially with two of the most tumultuous presidential victories, as a result of the electoral college solely, occurring in the last 20 years. Neither Democrat nor Republican deny it’s occurrence, but it can be argued that gerrymandering has more recently caused a polarization of the existing political parties leaving no middle ground to find between the two. Many will say that this polarization exists regardless of gerrymandering, but at its core, gerrymandering does have a negative effect, which pushes both parties further from the center than ever before.

Imagine a room of 35 people, 20 vote strawberry ice cream, 15 vote chocolate. Simply put, the yes should have the vote. However, prior to the vote, the nos decided to split the room into sections based on a previous vote for ice cream. The groups are set up as follows: Seven groups of five and two of the groups are comprised of strawberry voters only leaving ten strawberry and fifteen chocolate with five groups to fill. The remaining five groups are then placed with three chocolate voters, and two strawberry voters. At the end of the vote the room has more strawberry votes, but chocolate control more groups with five compared with two for strawberry. This all was made possible because the groups were designed to isolate the most strawberry voters into as few groups as possible while isolating the rest into groups with larger number of chocolate voters. This would immediately bring into question the legitimacy of the process, and tension would build as clearly more people wanted strawberry ice cream. In a larger arena, this may not be apparent, but to this small group, it is clear. The vote has essentially been hijacked. A much more high stakes occurrence manifested itself in the 2016 Presidential election. President Donald Trump did not win the popular vote, but did win the electoral. According to Christopher Ingraham, “Had two state borders been drawn just a little bit differently, shifting a total of four counties from one state to another, Hillary Clinton would have won the election.” This said, President Trump did win legitimately, but when one group is essentially changing the rules to win, it's understandable that each political party becomes weary of the other and distrust becomes rampant. At this point the seed of distrust has been planted.

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This distrust eventually makes it possible for aggressive media and social engineering to villainize the opposing party making it less likely for an individual to vote for a more centralized platform. The process begins during the campaign process. Using data farmed from multiple sources, including social media like FaceBook, teams can target districts that are on the fringe, the middle ground, in its effort to swing seats in the state to fit their overall agenda. By using brutal and misleading attacks against the opposing candidate late in the campaign, funded by political groups with a much more ambitious goal and can be much larger than what is normally spent in a campaign of that local size, they can redistribute power in a state and take control of the local government. In an interview with David Daley on Fresh Air, he talks about Dave Levdansky, a Democratic legislator in Pennsylvania who lost to a virtual unknown regardless of being a prominent legislator in his own community. “ He loses by 140 votes. The Republicans take control of the Pennsylvania House. They take control of the Senate. They elect a Republican governor in Corbett that year and they own all three legs of the redistricting process. And those mailers and that money made the difference.” In this instance the effort to gerrymander the state is what drives the polarization and eventually allows it to sustain itself with the eventuality of the redistricting. Levdansky lost due to misinformation pertaining to a library that was being built and the amount of money allocated for the build. Before he had an opportunity the actual cost he was voted out. This eventually led to the redistricting of several areas which created a foothold on the state regardless of the number of voters that turned out to vote Democrat instead of Republican. These 315,000 voters had become disenfranchised, and in a country that preaches” every vote counts,” does it really? The concept of gerrymandering tends to elude the general voter. So when you have a room full of strawberry loving individuals have to eat chocolate it becomes disheartening and easier to become angry and opposed to any compromise that may come in the future.

Gerrymandering creates a unique circumstance. Elected officials in that district are unable to maintain a level of conformity as they may be primaried, in which they are replaced by a more extreme candidate from the same political party. This prevents bipartisanship and places more pressure on the elected official to maintain the ideologies as closely as possible to their base, even at the cost of it having a negative impact on the community. David Daley identified this occurrence when John Bohner resigned as house speaker. “His job was made impossible by a new breed of post -2010 congressional Republicans- pure in their conservatism, united in their distaste of deal-making with Democrats and President Obama, and certain that they represented districts where their only electoral challenge was by someone even further to their right.” This laid the groundwork for a new era of Republican to emerge and gave power to the more hard lined inner groups that led to Donald Trump running and winning the 2016 election. In turn a more radical left was born with young individuals like Alexandria Ocasio- Cortez gaining momentum and winning the primary over well known and established reps like Joe Crowely.

Competition in these oddly shaped districts has become hard to come by. Without a group to contend against, there is less motivation to find compromise. This leaves the uncontested politicians to govern more radically and further from the center without any checks and balances. With little competition, the constituents left on the opposite isle are unable to make their voice heard, and in the same way as an uncontested politician, become less likely to find middle ground with their leadership.

Many things contribute to the destruction of the political center. At it core, gerrymandering is designed specifically to do so. It’s a political maneuver specifically meant to redistribute power to a smaller number of individuals and its effect on the community is felt in the form of distrust, and a sense of worthlessness. Of course all politicians begin their career with the intent to help the community, but when their position is in danger from their own party, they aren’t given the freedom to work with the opposing party to truly create positive legislation. Polarization is real, and that isn’t disputed by either Democrats or Republicans. However, before any discontent can be manifested, or a politician can run uncontested, or a social media disinformation campaign can destroy a career, gerrymandering laid the first brick on that path.

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