Posted by | April 1, 2011 10:41 | Filed under: Top Stories

by Stuart Shapiro

We regularly hear about increased polarization in Congress.  This gets blamed for decreased civility and an increase in gridlock.  Three moderate Democratic former Congressmen (including Artur Davis, pictured) got together to discuss the problem this week.

Davis said party primaries are now dominated by the bases, and as minority parties get smaller in Democratic and Republican states, the party “becomes more insular, more out of touch. It’s harder for a centrist candidate to run.”

Primary opponents criticized Davis last year for voting against the health care bill. He lost the primary but said Tuesday that voting for the bill would have made his general election campaign a non-starter.

I think Davis gets it partially correct.  The use of primaries to challenge incumbents has led to an increase in polarization.  A bigger factor, however, is not mentioned.  Increasingly sophisticated tools have made redistricting much more effective.  And since it is the parties that are in charge of redistricting, they are mainly concerned with creating safe seats for their Reps.  Now the seats are so safe, members of Congress do not have to worry about the general election.  Not only are primaries more likely but they are the only election an incumbent has to fear.

The best solution to partisanship in the House is to do redistricting the way they do in Iowa.  A neutral commission sets the districts and every two years Iowa has competitive races for Congress.

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Stuart Shapiro

Stuart is a professor and the Director of the Public Policy
program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers
University. He teaches economics and cost-benefit analysis and studies
regulation in the United States at both the federal and state levels.
Prior to coming to Rutgers, Stuart worked for five years at the Office
of Management and Budget in Washington under Presidents Clinton and
George W. Bush.