Extremism In The House

by Stuart Shapiro

Nate Silver continues to produce political analysis, even though he isn’t getting the attention he did during the election.  Today his focus is on the fiscal cliff and the inability of the House to pass a bill.  The chart here shows Congressional districts by their share of the Presidential vote.  The darker reds and blues mean that more districts have become “landslide” districts.  And the consequences for the House?

So why is compromise so hard in the House? Some commentators, especially liberals, attribute it to what they say is the irrationality of Republican members of Congress.

But the answer could be this instead: individual members of Congress are responding fairly rationally to their incentives. Most members of the House now come from hyperpartisan districts where they face essentially no threat of losing their seat to the other party. Instead, primary challenges, especially for Republicans, may be the more serious risk.

Silver attributes the growth in landslide districts to two factors.  The first is redistricting.  The second is an increased propensity of people to move near people with similar political views (Democrats in cities, Republicans in rural areas).  And there is no sign that either of these trends will change in the near future.  So, expect more cliffs.

About 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.

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