Polling and Gerrymandering

A couple of days ago, I ran across one of those proliferating “wow, look what Trump is doing to the GOP” polls. It showed Clinton crushing Trump, the Senate going Democratic, and in the House, “generic Democrats” beating “generic Republicans” by 11 points.

The problem is, those “generic” preferences are meaningless. In the last House elections, Democrats nationally received a million more votes than Republicans. Have you noticed who controls the U.S. House of Representatives–by a very healthy margin? Republicans.

There are two reasons national generic preferences are irrelevant. The most obvious is that in individual congressional districts, voters do not have a choice between Generic Candidate A and Generic Candidate B. They are faced with real people, some of whom are appealing and some of whom are appalling, and party doesn’t predict those characteristics.

There is also a reason that voters face lopsided choices, or in some cases, no choice at all, and that reason is gerrymandering–partisan redistricting intended to make districts “safe,” aka uncompetitive.

As I have argued previously, this lack of competitiveness breeds voter apathy and reduced political participation. Why get involved when the result is foreordained? Why donate to a sure loser? For that matter, unless you are trying to buy political influence for some reason, why donate to a sure winner? Why volunteer or vote, when those efforts are clearly irrelevant?

It isn’t only voters who lack incentives for participation: it’s very difficult to recruit credible candidates to run on the ticket of the “sure loser” party. The result is that in many of these races, voters are left with a choice between the incumbent and a marginal candidate recruited to fill the slot, a placeholder who offers no new ideas, no energy, and no genuine challenge. In other safe districts, there is no challenger at all; in either case, the primary is the real election. Such contests simply exacerbate cynicism and voter apathy.

Here in Indiana, a legislative study committee has been convened to consider the possibility of changing the way our legislators draw district boundaries. As one legislator noted during the last public meeting, the current system, which allows representatives to choose their voters rather than the other way around, is a clear conflict of interest. Several states have established nonpartisan redistricting commissions, and others are considering similar reforms.

Study committees tend to be places where legislation goes to die. In this case, citizen turnout at Study Committee meetings and pressure from large numbers of citizens–mostly mobilized by the League of Women Voters and Common Cause–has given us hope that we can actually get something done. The next meeting of the Interim Study Committee will be July 7th at 1:00 in the afternoon in the Indiana Statehouse. If there is once again a robust turnout from members of the public, that will send a very important message to legislators who want to hang on to a status quo that benefits them.

If you can attend, I hope you will.


  1. Sorry I can’t make it but I’ll be there in spirit and would like to get a full report after. Thanks for the heads up!

  2. The endless gerrymandering of political districts is self-defeating – for the voters. It is the voters who must demand change but seem to have no voice or lack the incentive to speak out; the Interim Study Committee meeting on July 7th at 100 p.m. in the Indiana State House is their opportunity to be heard. Districts are in a constant state of flux; district lines should be set, as are county and state lines, and Representatives work with the constituents within their district to meet their needs rather than picking the constituents who will meet the needs of the elected officials. Currently; some districts cross county lines, involving separate government entities, officials, public safety guidelines, laws, ordinances and number and makeup of residents. Some districts have become political realms, long ruled by the same official because there is no one else to vote for and no opposing party candidate.

    District 88 is an excellent example; ruled for nearly 30 years by Brian Bosma, an old man who is out of step with the times and the needs and the makeup of the constituents within his realm which straddles the county line. The voters in that district now have another option, another voice to speak for all residents and who wants and needs to be heard. Dana Black is a 21st Century candidate who understand the needs of the constituents as well as the drawbacks of the district lines and the decades old one-man, one-party rule she is battling to overcome. How many other districts and candidates are facing the same obstacles throughout the state?

    Dana and other candidates are seeking to provide “government of the people, by the people and for the people” here in Marion County. Currently, they are out-manned and out-gunned by the ruling GOP who have outlived their usefulness here and in other Republican ruled states whose gerrymandering maintains the stagnant status quo. Change is long overdue.

  3. This is really important work; thank you for your commitment to the rights of the Indiana voter!

  4. If you want to understand the problems that come from gerrymandering, all you have to do is look at House District 32 that covers northern Hamilton county, Tipton county, a small corner of Madison county, a little corner of southeast Howard county and a part of Grant county that includes the western edge of the town of Marion. If that description seems confusing, imagine trying to run a campaign against the incumbent. The district twists and turns to swallow up all of the rural areas of the state that is just north of Indianapolis to guarantee a Republican win for that House district seat.

    I worked on the campaign for the Democrat candidate for District 32 in 2014 who was running against Representative Eric Turner. While our candidate was not the most dynamic guy, he was far better than Turner who had ethics violations as long as his arm, removed as the #2 guy in the House and had pledged to resign his seat when he was elected. Turner won the election, resigned and the residents of House district 32 are now represented by Tony Cook, a person they had never heard of, didn’t know anything about and had no idea of his political views. Turns out that Mr. Cook is being a good Republican, doing exactly as the party wishes such as voting for legislation that expanded vouchers that depletes funds particularly from small rural school corporations – like Hamilton Heights where he was a superintendent for over 20 years. The district has many problems that present a snapshot of what is wrong with one-party rule in government. There are virtually no jobs in that district, with the exception of a small smattering of factories everyone in that area must travel many miles to work. Roads are horrible, schools are withering from the lack of funds and the state ignores the area when problems loom on the horizon. Social services in the area have been warning of a heroin and Opana problem for years. When a tornado ripped up the section of Howard county in 32, and when a flood devastated the town of Tipton, local officials were met with a deaf ear from the state because they have no one that stands up for the district in the legislature.

    Many people make the argument that the voters of District 32 have brought this on by their votes, but the election tally proves that only the party faithful on both sides voted. Turner received 8900 of 14,000 ballots cast. A dismal turnout for a district of nearly 50,000 potential voters, but why would anyone get out to vote when they know that their vote does not count. Everyone knows the Republican will be put in office, even when it is someone who is corrupt, or just a patsy who dances to the tune of the leaders of the GOP.

    I hope to be at that hearing on gerrymandering, and I hope to be able to speak. But just like my vote in District 32 didn’t have any impact, I don’t think my statement at a study committee will have much impact either.

  5. JoAnn you are right about Dana Black. She is a dynamic, charismatic person who demonstrates her knowledge of how government works and how she intends to make it better. I certainly hope the voters in District 88 will listen to what she has to say and put her in office.

  6. Thank you for the heads up Sheila! Even though I live more than 2 hours away, I will do everything possible to attend this meeting.

  7. At a public meeting with the GOP Reps for my area back in March I mentioned gerrymandering to Dave Wolkins and asked if he would do something to stop gerrymandering due to years of the Legislative reps choosing the voters, rather than the voters choosing them. He looked surprised and said he was not aware that there is a problem at all in how the districts are carved out.

    By the way, Dave Wolkins is a state chairman for ALEC and has championed their desires for decades.

    After many years with no choice for the voters, we now have a Democrat that has stepped up to the plate to challenge him. Her name is Dee Moore and I hope she is able to educate the public about how Mr. Wolkins has actually worked against the needs of his constituents and has answered only to ALEC.

  8. Districting seems like a natural job for a computer, nationally, every 10 years based on census data with no regard to party registration or voting record.

    We should also eliminate the Electoral College.

  9. Thank you Shiela. If anyone wants to receive the newsletter from the redistricting coalition please email me at redistricting@lwvindy.org. Please plan on attending this committee meeting and meet your fellow Hoosiers who care deeply about this issue.

  10. You’re very fortunate in Indianapolis that you can still mobilize. Take advantage of it. The League of Women Voters was active here in Jacksonville at one time, not too long ago. Not now. Not in this environment.

  11. I agree, I think Gerrymandering is the root of voter disengagement and apathy and is very bad for the state and nation. I remember once during the Bayh administration a law to address gerrymandering actually came to a vote when the Democrats were in power and failed to pass. It’s hard for either party to give up the power to draw districts and for legislators to give up ” job security” I will be out of town on July 7th but will see if I can help get some folks to turn out.

  12. Pete,

    “Districting seems like a natural job for a computer, nationally, every 10 years based on census data with no regard to party registration or voting record.

    We should also eliminate the Electoral College.”

    I’m with you totally! The use of computer technology as you suggest removes the bothersome element of partisan subjectivity, removes the incessant partisan bickering, and appears to be fair for all concerned.

    Teresa Kendall,

    As a voter who resides in the southern part of District 32, Westfield to be exact, I agree with your assessment of Eric Turner. I never voted for the man simply because I believed he was a sleazy character who began his first career by operating a fireworks stand and who later found his niche market, his calling or his ministry as the Christian-right would say, in building and operating nursing homes. Of course, most folks are aware that a nursing home can be a ‘cash cow’ via the steady reliable income from Federal monies, as in Medicare and primarily from Medicaid.

    On the other hand, Eric Turner’s replacement, Tony Cook does have a positive history with many living in District 32 and well beyond, including me who moved to Indiana in 2004. I’d heard of Tony Cook years before moving to Indiana, likely I had knowledge of Cook because he was an educator as am I; however, I had no knowledge of his political affiliation simply because it wasn’t important at the time or in the present.

    Tony Cook was the Principal of Hamilton Heights High School in 1987 when he paved the way for Ryan White (of HIV/AIDS history) to attend HHHS. Trust me, Cook’s handling of this situation involving the community, the parents, and the students is a testament to good leadership, of compassion, and of inclusiveness, especially in a relatively small rural school district. Considering the shabby narrow-minded treatment Ryan White received from the Howard Co Schools in Kokomo, I’d say Tony Cook did a masterful job of providing a school environment where Ryan White felt accepted as a student, as a person. I wish the best for Tony Cook.

  13. BSH,

    I agree, Tony Cook was way ahead of everyone with the Ryan White/Aids situation. And as a superintendent he was right there with all of the other small district supers complaining about the cuts in funding that were literally killing the small rural districts.

    Now as a state rep he tows the line that was choking his school system: vouchers, funding for charters and even lining up against Supt. Ritz who has only been on the side of public schools and the candidate I would guess he probably voted for in 2012.

    He has proven so far that his allegiance to the GOP is more important than funding the schools in his district. A district where there are virtually no voucher schools and no charters that schools in his area would feed into. Voting to expand the vouchers literally took money away from his school district and put it in the hands of private school in other parts of the state.

    Tony Cook is by far better than Eric Turner in the fact that he is not a crook. But any educator that supports vouchers has their head in the sand or a hand out to the lobbyists that pay for their re-election.

  14. Quote from Garry Wills’ review of E. J. Dionne’s “Why the Right Went Wrong: Conservatism–from Goldwater to the Tea Party and Beyond”: Republicans “rightly intuit that there is only one Enlightenment party in America and [that they] are not it…To be on the right is to feel perpetually betrayed…it still feels persecuted by the ‘mainstream media’…growls against moderation…becoming more embittered. It is appropriate that this feeling has been in alliance with the Confederate South, the loser of a war it still thinks it should have won. This feeling that superior people have license to circumvent democracy is still with us–when strategic gerrymandering and restrictive voting procedures freeze out minorities, the young, and the elderly, give Republicans stronger representation in Congress than the popular vote warrants.(Tom Johnson, Jan. 29, ’16)

  15. Teresa,

    Addressing the issue of Charter Schools, let’s include the fact, not a partisan opinion, but the fact that Charter Schools are not a partisan invention, but rather are a bi-partisan agreement, one of the few bi-partisan agreements in the current political climate. Putting it in simple terms, Charter Schools are touted by the White House, by the State House, and by the local School House.

    Look no farther than Indianapolis, known as the Charter School epicenter among educators, where deep-pocketed, politically powerful Democrats and Republicans alike have spawned a cottage industry revolving around Charter Schools, consultants, experts from afar, dysfunctional schools, failing schools, and ALL initiated by Mayor Bart Peterson, (you add the political affiliation).

    By the way, I detest the Charter School concept.

    From 2007, an education journal article worth reading. http://educationnext.org/indianapolis-mayor-bart-peterson/

  16. Wayne, your quote is spot on. While the GOP takes advantage of their constituents by reinforcing their sentiments the party did not create the culture. It just maintains it and takes advantage of it.

  17. BSH, I only speak of Mr. Cook being hyper partisan on the education issue, because of his past actions and statements that are to the contrary of how he is voting in the legislature. And the legislature is controlled by the GOP. The fact is that he was appointed by the GOP and he is representing the party more than his constituents.

    The flooding problem still exists in Tipton, southern Howard county residents are living the nightmare of storm damage than never gets resolved, there are no local jobs in that district and schools are suffering from a lack of funds.

    Last session Mr. Cook, who was not elected spent the session voting as the GOP wanted. And this all has to do with gerrymandering and the people of 32 not being represented by an elected representative.

  18. Thank you. As as candidate for House District 18 I’ve appeared in the newspaper. My opponent’s party stated as an open rebuttal in the Wabash Plain Dealer that he had nothing to worry about as it is a “Republican District”. After all he’s been in the House for 28 years. Every seat should be determined by the voters, not the House members. I am working here to make it so. facebook: District 18 Deserves Moore

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