Feature

Has gerrymandering backfired on Republicans?

The redistricting that secured the GOP a House majority could be pushing the party too far to the right

There would appear to be few drawbacks to locking up a durable majority in the House, which was what the GOP accomplished in once-in-a-decade redistricting that followed the 2010 census. But Alex Isenstadt at Politico touched off a debate this week by noting that, while the creation of a string of "ruby red districts" will keep Republicans in control of the lower chamber through 2014 and possibly even 2020, "the party could pay a steep price for that dominance."

GOP strategists and candidates are reportedly warning that the overwhelming conservative majorities in these gerrymandered districts make primary battles tougher to win than general elections. That, Isenstadt said, is "pushing House Republicans further to the right and narrowing the party's appeal at a time when some GOP leaders say its future rests on the opposite happening."

If you're looking for a root cause of the recurring drama within the House Republican Conference — from the surprise meltdown on the farm bill to the looming showdown over immigration reform — the increasingly conservative makeup of those districts is a good place to start. [Politico]

Robert Schlesinger at U.S. News & World Report agreed, arguing that the GOP's success in the last round of redistricting, which created an estimated 200 safe GOP districts in the 435-member House, was "proving Pyrrhic." Some conservatives think their challenge is not wooing moderates but more forcefully making the case for their own beliefs, but even some hardline Tea Party politicians are starting to recognize that their views aren't going over too well, even in some safe GOP districts. "That's a real problem for Republicans and it's one their redistricting success is only exacerbating," said Schlesinger.

Of course, carving out safe districts is a "two-way street," Sean Trende pointed out at Real Clear Politics. Democratic-controlled state legislatures also engaged in gerrymandering, leaving both parties with supporters concentrated in safe districts. Furthermore, Trende argued that it is wrong to conclude that the proliferation of safe districts is what's driving the two sides farther apart, noting that the Senate is as bitterly divided as the House.

The real underlying cause of the increasingly stark ideological divide in Congress, Trende said, is something more complex:

We have an ideologically polarized House and Senate because our country has become politically more polarized... Both parties are nearing historic lows in their approval ratings with the American people, although Democrats are faring a touch better than Republicans. Polarization is a boon to neither party. But it's being driven primarily by shifts in the country, not by gerrymandering. [Real Clear Politics]

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