Writing at The New Republic Nate Cohn challenges the common wisdom that gerrymnandering has lead to more and more conservative Republican districts than would otherwise be the case:
But the fact that gerrymandering boosted the total number of House Republicans does not mean that gerrymandering made the GOP more likely to support extreme positions or shutdown the government. In fact, partisan gerrymandering usually reduces the number of extremely red districts. Why? Because the point of partisan gerrymandering isn’t to try and maximize the number of safe districts. The goal is to maximize the number of districts that are merely safe enough by packing as many of your opponents’ voters as you can into a small number of extremely partisan districts while safely distributing the rest throughout your own districts. In this way, gerrymandering may actually increase the number of moderate Republicans.
I think that even this formulation over-simplifies what gerrymandering does somewhat. As I see it gerrymandering has two purposes. It is used to protect incumbents and to concentrate the strength of minorities in a relatively small number of districts. The minorities can be racial minorities, ethnic minorities, or political minorities.
Here in Illinois the 4th Congressional District is enormously gerrymandered. That’s Luis Guitierrez’s district and without it it’s quite unlikely he would have been elected to the House, indeed, Chicago might still be waiting for its first Hispanic Congressman since Hispanic voting strength is relatively dilute in the city.
Rep. Guitierrez has been the House’s Democratic point man on “comprehensive immigration reform”. In his absence would the parameters of the discussion been different?
I don’t believe that eliminating gerrymandering is enough to make the House more democratic. For that I believe we’d need to greatly increase the number of districts. Extremely large Congressional districts of the sort we have now have a purpose similar to gerrymandering: they preserve the power of incumbents.