WHO'S AFRAID OF...

WHO'S AFRAID OF A LITTLE GERRYMANDERING? I suggest folks seriously read through Jonathan Krasno's article on the "The Redistricting Myth," that oh-so-comforting belief that non-competitive house districts and lackluster incumbents can be chalked up to the evil HALs used to deviously partition off the electorate. As Krasno argues, though, redistricting is far likelier to be one of the many factors rather than the sole factor. A few data points:

� In 2004, 22 House races were decided by 10 points or less, the lowest number in 50 years. This is among the most oft-cited arguments against redistricting.

� But also in 2004, political scientists broke down the presidential numbers by congressional district and found that 102 of them saw a difference of less than 10 points. Were gerrymandering really segregating such intractable partisans, why do their team colors shine so much brighter in congressional elections?

� In 2004, the average incumbent outspent their challenger by more than 5 to 1.

Indeed, incumbency confers a series of important advantages that have little to do with the map lines. Constant coverage of events, speeches, legislative achievements, and general do-goodery is a big one, as is the ability to fundraise, draw on established political machines, convince the party structure to provide needed resources, and airlift big name supporters. Meanwhile, the parties have begun deploying much more targeted strategies during elections, concentrating resources in a handful of highly contested districts and leaving the average challenger to get slaughtered by the better-known, better-funded incumbent. Redistricting has emerged a convenient way to sidestep calls for a wider playing field, allowing Democrats and Republicans to shrug away complaints with a nod towards the insurmountable deviousness of those shadowy gerrymanders.

--Ezra Klein

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