Yglesias on Polarization
Both pundits and scholars have blamed increasing levels of partisan conflict and polarization in Congress on the effects of partisan gerrymandering. We assess whether there is a strong causal relationship between congressional districting and polarization. We find very little evidence for such a link. First, we show that congressional polarization is primarily a function of the differences in how Democrats and Republicans represent the same districts rather than a function of which districts each party represents or the distribution of constituency preferences. Second, we conduct simulations to gauge the level of polarization under various “neutral” districting procedures. We find that the actual levels of polarization are not much higher than those produced by the simulations. We do find that gerrymandering has increased the Republican seat share in the House; this increase is not an important source of polarization.
[update]: I found a better link to that paper.
So I might have been wrong about redistricting’s effect on political polarization but I appear to be vindicated about my concern over its effect on electoral competition.
And redistricting does appear to have a negative impact on electoral competition. There are many reasons to do something about gerrymandering. But reducing polarization is not one of them.
Of course, I want to look more into this. Another paper which I haven’t been able to access yet seems to suggest that redistricting has modest effect on polarization.
Our results show that although there is an overall trend of increasing polarization, districts that have undergone significant changes as a result of redistricting have become even more polarized. Although the effect is relatively modest, it suggests that redistricting is one among other factors that produce party polarization in the House and may help to explain the elevated levels of polarization in the House relative to the Senate.
Either way it seems redistricting – no matter how unseemly – isn’t the main culprit behind our polarized politics.