Democrats have finally noticed how many seats the Republicans have won in the past few elections, and are laying the blame squarely on gerrymandering.
Gerrymandering is back in the news again. Just like the weather, it’s one of those topics everyone mentions, but nobody does anything about. After the changes in the political makeup of Congress and various statehouses over the past few years, however, that may be changing; especially since the Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin on the subject.
Plenty of other outlets are breaking down the details of the case, or trying to analyze what could happen, or explaining the importance of the upcoming decision. And for those who need a refresher on gerrymandering, good videos on the subject can be found HERE and HERE.
I’d rather talk about what’s going on tactically outside of the courtroom, because I think there are some interesting aspects in the publicity campaign developing around the issue. For instance, in my search for information about the court case, I came across this tweet and image on redistricting.
Why the Supreme Court's gerrymandering case is important: pic.twitter.com/8wMXE7BULd
— The Opposition (@oppstn) June 19, 2017
Now, if you have some knowledge of political history, you will note that gerrymandering is almost as old a practice in Congress as Congress is itself. And you’ll also note that both parties have a long and full history of engaging in gerrymandering that benefits one party at the expense of the other.
But this image is about distilling down one idea: gerrymandering is unfairly benefiting Republicans. Simple. Clear. Effective. And nobody selling this actually wants to dig into how long this practice has been in effect, or the history of it. They don’t want their audience to look deeper into the idea at all. The entire purpose is to use this powerful visual image to drive home that one idea…
Gerrymandering is unfairly benefiting Republicans.
You might think ‘Well, how else can you explain the huge change in the number of Republican elected officials?’ That’s a legitimate question, but one with many more factors involved than who is drawing the district maps. For example, Nate Silver has studied swing districts over time, and points out that the bluest Democrat districts are blue to a much greater degree than the reddest Republican districts, signaling that voters may be clustering more and more with like-minded peers, and thus gerrymandering themselves somewhat.
And there’s a lot more red land on the electoral map than blue land, in part because blue voters have consolidated themselves into denser urban areas, leaving fewer of them available to be drawn into red areas to make those districts more competitive. Redrawing districts to distribute Democrat voters more evenly would require – shockingly – the precise partisan redistricting schemes that Democrats are attempting to stop via this case before the Supreme Court.
But you won’t find much discussion about these other factors. What you will find is images like the one above that attempt to oversimplify the issue. This is how they’re now building up a case against gerrymandering, even as some of the very people complaining about it have long utilized it and fought for it. What we seem to be encountering is the realization that gerrymandering has outlived its usefulness to Democrats, who now intend to try to eliminate it by creating the narrative that the process is a Republican ‘dirty trick’, that Republicans only hold so many House seats and state legislatures because they cheat.
And there is no leadership-level counter messaging I can find on the Republican side about it. I wouldn’t expect them to be defending gerrymandering – crazy-looking districts are a useful campaign issue at times. But I don’t even see them pushing back against the notion that Republicans achieved their majorities through cheating, or that this way IS cheating. There is a strong case to be made that it isn’t. As Kevin Williamson puts it, ‘Redistricting is not politicized. It is political.’
This is what happens when you end up on the wrong side of ‘Elections Have Consequences.’
Of course, elected officials of each party LOVE gerrymandered districts, even as they bemoan the polarization and division they claim results from creating so many ‘safe’ districts. Most of their time and money during a campaign are concentrated on their primary races. Once they have won their primaries, they can usually count on getting elected in the general election. But the Supreme Court’s eventual decision may complicate the lives of many elected officials, possibly in ways they haven’t calculated yet.
The tweeted image isn’t aimed at the Supreme Court justices to try to sway them; that would be a waste of time. Its purpose is to highlight the issue as one of Republican shenanigans and convince people that this isn’t fair. Then future endeavors will aim to build a groundswell of support for changing the way districts are drawn (presumably to favor Democrats again), and then return them to power over the next few elections.
It’s dishonest, and it’s one of the things people hate about politics when they learn that it’s going on.
My questions to anyone attempting to make hay with this issue are as follows:
- If it was always wrong to rig districts for one party or another before, where have you been before this?
- If it wasn’t wrong to do it before, why is it wrong now?
- Do you recognize the danger in pointing out bad or wrong practices and policies only at the point when they cease to benefit you?
Forgive me if I’m still old-fashioned enough to favor some intellectual consistency on political issues. I am still clinging to the quaint notion that one’s principles should remain constant regardless of whether one’s team appears to be winning or losing. And that goes for the red team as well as the blue team.
Like many issues in politics, gerrymandering is a complex issue with a convoluted history to be considered, much of which is being swept away by using images like this. That’s all the more reason to take some time and refresh your knowledge of the issue, and seek out multiple sources from different perspectives on redistricting. There are still sources attempting to treat the issue more seriously; even Teen Vogue has a fairly detailed article about gerrymandering, something I did not see coming.
In fact, that’s probably a good reason to go lie down.
Side note for activists: I highly encourage you to follow the conversation in the tweet I mentioned above. Note the language used. Think about whether it is even possible to practically achieve the elimination of gerrymandering. And notice how much conversation and feedback is coming from this one image. I may not agree with the shallow method used to persuade people in this tweet, but imagine something like that paired with links to more details. A major takeaway should be this: making your case for a change in law or policy, no matter what the topic, is easier with good visuals. And make absolutely sure you have ACCURATE visuals, and that you can back them up with good research and data.