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November 02, 2002

More on Increases in Partisanship

Armed Liberal appreciated my post on why partisanship is increasing, not decreasing, but differed with my explanation that the deregionalization of politics -- my phrase "the end of the Civil War -- is behind it. Instead he argues the roots of the change are "more mechanical than that":

First, in the ability of party tacticans to manage redistricting, using better demographic data and computer analysis has led to the control of election results through voter selection through redistricting and gerrymandering. This is done by the parties, whose technicians ultimately control the process. Next, in the increasing cost of campaigning which must be borne by an aggressive fundraising structure...which structures are typically controlled by the parties, or by a cluster of consultants who rely on a steady stream of work from the parties for survival.
I don't buy it for a couple of reasons. Yes, gerrrymandering has an effect, but mostly to cut down on the competitive races. This may increase the partisanship of some of the candidates with safe seats, but it doesn't explain the mass shift of Southern Democrats from conservatives to mostly progressives. It's not like the "solid South" politicians had problems with reelection in the past; their seniority was legendary in the 1950s when perennially reelected southerners controlled Congress far beyond their numbers because of their longevity in office.

The change has a number of roots, but the simplest is the 1965 Civil Rights Act, which created a massive new voting constituency for progressivism in the South and, as conservative whites fled to the GOP, created a more polarized, honest partisan political configuration. There was a similar polarization in the North as minority-dominated urban areas began to vote dramatically different from white, richer suburbs.

Gerrymandering may accentuate these structural trends but the computers would be useless unless the underlying changes were there.

Posted by Nathan at November 2, 2002 09:29 AM

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Hmmm. You have something there. I'm not prepared to completely give up on the effects the mechanics of partisan politics have had, but I completely (and wrongly) ignored the effects of enfranchisement.

Back to the drawing board...


Posted by: Armed Liberal at November 4, 2002 11:18 AM

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