The Power of the Gerrymander

Members of Indiana’s General Assembly will soon vote on an anti-Gerrymandering measure introduced by Jerry Torr, a “good government” Republican. The odds are that with a bit of a push, it will pass the Indiana House; but absent some really effective citizen lobbying, it isn’t likely to make it through the Senate, and that’s a real shame.

If readers of this blog need motivation to participate in that citizen lobbying effort, let me point to an important column by Josh Marshall in Talking Points Memo, in which he connects the multiple dangers posed by Donald Trump directly to successful GOP gerrymandering. (The emphasis in the following excerpt is mine.)

In a less polarized partisan environment Trump never would have been elected and, if he had, might already be looking at possible impeachment. I think the greatest single explanation of Trump is that his politics profoundly galvanized a minority of the electorate and only a minority of the electorate. Almost everyone who wasn’t galvanized was repulsed. But once he had secured the GOP nomination with that minority, the power of partisan polarization kicked in to lock into place perhaps the next 15% to 20% of the electorate which otherwise would never have supported him. The fact that partisan identification proved stronger than that repulsion is the key reason many, including myself, wrongly discounted Trump’s ability to win. As long as Trump remains “us” to Republican voters I see little reason to think anything we can imagine will shake that very high level of support he gets from self-identified Republicans. That likely means that, among other things, no matter how unpopular Trump gets, Republican lawmakers will continue to support him because the chances of ending their careers is greater in a GOP primary than in a general election.

As I have repeatedly argued, the creation of “safe” seats for either party via partisan redistricting means that the real election occurs in that party’s primary. The people who vote in primary elections are primarily the “party faithful,” and they come overwhelmingly from the party’s fringe. Democratic voters in primaries are demonstrably to the left of the party as a whole, and Republican primary voters are even further to the right of the average Republican.

My Facebook page has been filled with criticisms of the U.S. House and Senate Republicans who have gone meekly along with the seriously disturbed person who occupies the Oval Office. (I can’t bring myself to attach the word “President” to this embarrassing buffoon.) What happened to their patriotism, their cojones? The answer is simple: the gerrymandering that makes them vulnerable to defeat if they cross the crazies of their own party has neutered them.

Gerrymandering is the reason that otherwise reasonable politicians consistently put partisan loyalties above the common good.

It would be nice if a few of them exhibited some integrity, and if Trump continues to threaten democratic norms and fundamental American interests, perhaps some of them will “grow a pair”– especially those getting ready to retire or otherwise leave office, who will not face another election.

The rest of them are caught between self-interest (which requires that they avoid offending the party’s fringe) and (for those that have them) their consciences.

Welcome to the world that gerrymandering has wrought…..


  1. A year ago at a local Republican townhouse meeting I brought up gerrymandering to my Rep, Dave Wolkins, and the fact that politicians choose their voters rather than the other way around. At that time he said he realy didn’t see a problem with gerrymandering and denied that it was enabling politicians to choose their voters.

    Last fall at a local debate before the election, he announced that he wanted to serve one more term. He also brought up gerrymandering and stated that it is a problem that needs to be addressed. Apparently he had a change of heart since he is no longer concerned about his job.

    However, his main reason for staying one more term is that he wants to see the EPA abolished. He is a state chairman for ALEC and seems to live and die by what the Kochs want.

    I am working hard locally to educate voters about gerrymandering and the damage it has done to our government. People don’t understand why they have no choices at the voting booth and have given on voting.

  2. This all makes sense. For now, I think that means that the only hope for stopping the Orange Buffoon rests with those on the left + those who will not have to run for office and the courts.
    Lets hope that there are enough of them who are up to the task.

  3. Is it possible to sue for equitable districts in court? I thought I heard it was actually happening in other states.

  4. After avoiding the primary election, the republican Trump enablers will still have to stand in a general election and in many states they will need the support of moderate repubs and democrats to win. These are the conflicted ones. In Indiana, it is not likely to be a problem.

  5. Don’t give up on voting…….as someone above said. Vote in the only primary that counts in the majority of Indiana…..the Republican primary. Doesn’t do any good to vote Democratic. Save that for the November ballot. We didn’t make the rules…..they did.

  6. I switched to MSNBC last night during the middle of a speech by someone I didn’t recognize after the confirmation of Sessions; his strong statement is the first public statement of this truth I have seen since this presidential fiasco began almost two years ago.

    He stated outright and more than once that REPUBLICAN POLITICIANS FEAR THE POWER DONALD TRUMP WIELDS AS PRESIDENT WITH THE SUPPORT OF HIS CABINET MEMBERS, THEIR FEARS ARE PERSONAL AS WELL AS POLITICAL AND REGARDING THEIR POLITICAL CAREERS. He stated the he knew Republicans who did NOT want to vote to confirm Sessions as Attorney General but deeply feared NOT to do so ONLY because of their fear of Trump.

    This is the truth of the current situation for all Americans, Democrats, Republicans, Independents and those who do not vote. We are no longer protected by OUR Bill of Rights, the Constitution or our local laws; we are being governed by a one-man demolition squad and, while ending gerrymandering is vital to saving our local governments, it is not worth a fart in a hurricane as long as Fuehrer Donald Trump is ruling this country with no workable opposition on any level.

    “Gerrymandering is the reason that otherwise reasonable politicians consistently put partisan loyalties above the common good.”

    Fear of Donald Trump is now ruling the gerrymandering partisan loyalties AGAINST the common good. We are not in a simple local battle at this time; Pence will wield his “Christian” protection of Republican gerrymandering from the White House in addition to the fear of Trump which seems to have this country cowering in disbelief at the deterioration of conditions across this nation in less than three weeks. Is the Democratic party strong enough, does it have enough support to fight to end gerrymandering against the full Republican support to maintain their winning status quo?

  7. Term limits are NOT needed when voters have a fair chance to limit terms of unresponsive legislators on election day. H.B. 1014 provides a mechanism to make state and federal legislators more responsive.

    State legislators now draw state and federal legislative maps. Forty percent (40%) of districts are so packed with voters of one party that opposing candidates didn’t even run last year – incenting current legislators to become unresponsive.

    LET’S CHANGE THE SYSTEM so that legislators no longer pick their voters and instead, voters will pick their legislators.

    Call Speaker Bosma (N.E. Marion Co. and N.W. Hancock Co.)
    at 317-232-9677 (Speaker’s office) or the toll free switchboard at 1-800-382-9841 and ask for the Speaker’s office to move H.B. 1014 to eliminate gerrymandering.

    Also – this is a MUST – please call the Committee Chr., Representative Milo Smith (Columbus) at 812-372-2121 or toll free at 1-800-382-9841 and leave a message for Representative Milo Smith to urge a HEARING and PASSAGE of House Bill 1014 so that an independent, non-partisan commission draws new legislative districts to make them more competitive and to make legislators in ‘safe’ districts more responsive to voters’ wishes.

    This is the change that affects ALL other legislation. Let’s get it moving.

  8. As a fan of George Lakoff I will be making those calls to the Indiana State Legislature today and using the word “fairness” at every opportunity.

  9. One of the first actions that MUST be taken is for Democrats to become a STATEWIDE party. The Republican super-majority has denuded to rural counties of Democrats, which was its goal.
    I don’t know what all this will require, but I’m sure money is involved, so the Democrats who do have seats in the urban areas are going to have to spend as well as speak to and for the rural areas, too.

  10. I would strongly suggest we start thinking just as much about Standing up for FREEDOM as much as we do in our continual support for DEMOCRACY. Both ELECTORAL and SOCIAL DEMOCRACY are incapacitated for the time being, maybe forever. Nevertheless, we must RESISTthe FASCIST regime headed by Trump/Pence. AMERICANS AWAKE! [before it’s too late]

    Try to quit blaming others for what we ALL have failed to do in the past.

  11. Good luck to all of you in Indiana. I hope you can turn the tide on Gerrymandering in your state. Here in Florida, the voters passed an amendment in 2010. It read:

    “Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.”

    Guess what happened next. The Republican Legislature drew the districts it wanted. Democrats took them to court and got some minor changes. This is an ongoing saga. The only thing that really works is an engaged electorate.

  12. ‘FIRED UP’

    “We need “sacrificial resistance.” Today we have protests that last for a few hours; we hear a couple of speeches and return home to await the next call to do the same. Think about how many protests Black people have called over just the last five years. Think about our TIPID responses to the police in the case of Eric Garner, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, and many others.

    We get “fired up,” but we are not really “ready to go.” We end up going NOWHERE, and we fail to resolve the problems we are protesting.

    The recent march led by Al Sharpton was called, “We Shall Not Be Moved,” Well, the title was certainly correct. We have not moved since that one-day march, and I have not seen any positive results that came from that protest against Donald Trump. Have we simply become professional marchers, complainers, and paper tigers?

    Maybe our protest leaders have grown weary of marching and doing anything over a sustained period. Maybe they just want to impress us with their bombastic, threatening, and angry rhetoric. They want to get us fired up and ready to go, but they don’t want to lead us.

    Speaking of rhetoric, if Black folks would simply put as much effort into appropriate action as we expend on discussing issues that advance us not one iota, or complaining about Trump, or lamenting about Obama leaving, we would move far beyond our present state.

    “It’s time for Sustained Persistence” by James Clingman (Florida Currier, February 3-February 9, 2017) p. A3

  13. Nancy’s comment is a call to action for those in Indiana. If we all just bitch on FB or Twitter and do NOTHING to change it, we are part of the problem. Get involved and informed. It can help with the depression, angst and hopelessness. Select a target and focus.

  14. The reality is that politicians gerrymander to further their own narrow political power bases and Indiana is not the best example of the evils of gerrymandering since as a deep Red state it would probably go Republican in any event, though with this difference: With honest rather than pretended reform of the redistricting process and a robust application of its criteria it is possible that the Republican supermajority would become a simple majority so that when Democrats elect a governor (if ever), his or her veto pen would come into play. We must crawl before we walk with an ultimate objective, of course, of somehow electing Democratic majorities in both legislative and executive capacities, but during the interim do what we can to end Republican gerrymandering en route to that happy day.

    We are told that absolute power corrupts absolutely. I believe it. Exhibit A – the State House.

  15. JD; I bitch on Facebook and Sheila’s blog, I do not Twitter or I would bitch there, too. I will be 80 years old in April; am deaf and disabled, live on income barely above the federal poverty level, I joined organizations who can physically act for me (ACLU, AARP, Planned Parenthood, American Humanist Association, Southern Poverty Law Center, Indiana Coalition for Public Education, National Democratic Committee, Indiana Democratic Party, Women 4 Change, Pansuit Nation Indiana). I have agreed and am looking forward to the next march in Indianapolis – on ANYTHING AGAINST Donald Trump – to have my daughter-in-law push me in a borrowed wheelchair so I can be there. I answer and return petitions and surveys from numerous organizations; do the same on line. I had a “Pence Must Go ” yard sign posted for 2 years and only removed it on January 20th due to my fear that Trump will curtail freedom of speech and include yard signs. I have three biracial great-grandchildren, one Mexican-American great-granddaughter and a Mexican granddaughter-in-law and I fear for their physical safety as well as the loss of their civic and human rights. Yesterday I sent another letter to the editor of the Star in rebuttal to the man who supports Trump’s immigration ban (although they stopped publishing my letters long ago). I have argued via E-mail with Sen. Merritt, a do-nothing for decades, sent messages of support to those I agree with. I worked for the City of Indianapolis for 20 years; beginning in 1972 under Mayor Lugar, 16 years of the progressive years of Mayor Bill Hudnut and 2 years during the destructive, “scorched earth” administration of Goldsmith.

    What have you done and what are you doing?

  16. JoAnn: Great quote by Hendrix (from last night).

    All: Continue to fight gerrymandering! It’s ugly and destructive to the American way of life.

  17. IN HR 1014 is the bill. Nancy Papas is correct. We need to put the heat on Speaker Bosma and Committee Chair Milo Smith and call them to say this BILL must be heard in committee by next Wednesday, Feb 15th. The Senate Bill that mirrors (more or less) HR 1014 will not be heard in committee. The Senators have decided to let the House do the heavy lifting by passing their bill and then maybe they will consider looking at it. When I say heavy lifting, I mean average citizens need to show up at the state house, by the hundreds, if not by the 1000’s and demand that the bill be heard. It might capture the attention of some legislators.

    Sheila is right though; it is the Senate that will prevent this common sense for fairness from coming to pass. I wonder if we don’t need to also start contacting our local papers , writing letters to the editors, requesting papers to write their own editorials… shoot how about a front page Sunday story about how gerrymandering works? We know that the BLACK front page the Indy Star published concerning RFRA got a lot of attention.

    As for court intervention, one would have to demonstrate the districts drawn intentionally hurt a minority group’s interest. It worked in N.C., where the courts found that 29 districts were discriminatory and therefore all districts had to be redrawn. N.C. will be holding a special election this year to revote for their state legislators.

    This stuff is HARD and involves a lot of rolling up the sleeves and getting to work. I am game. Anybody else?

  18. Allison; if this is the Allison Cole who worked for DMD in the Hudnut administration, this is the JoAnn Green who was Gene Lausch’s secretary. You appear to be as totally involved now as you were then; you impressed Gene in all you did.

    Do you remember the unbelievable response from the public at all levels regarding our research into the abandoned buildings problem? I had to turn away countless people wanting to pay the fee to attend the resulting conference. Once the study was announced publicly, the public came to us, we didn’t have to seek them out. Have you seen any public involvement on any issue to that extent since then? Any idea what it would take to urge them to action? This is a different city than it was then; it is a different country and a different world than it was then but people still need to be involved if they want problems resolved. When the percentage of registered voters who don’t vote is as high as it was in the past few elections; we will not get anything done…including ending or rewriting gerrymandering and the Electoral College.

  19. The DNC has stood by while the Country has been gerrymandered by the Republican Party. The DNC should have been throwing up lawsuits and trying to expand the party also. Alas, the DNC has focused it’s efforts on maintaining itself as a servant of Wall Street, triangulation politics, and electing or re-electing status quo candidates with no fire in them for a fight. (Like Evan Bayh and John Gregg.)
    February 7, 2017
    The first poll of Emerson College’s Spring 2017 semester shows the nation is split on Donald Trump’s performance as President so far with 48% of registered voters approve
    of the job that Trump is doing, versus 47% that disapprove. Republicans approve of Trump
    89%/5%, while Democrats disapprove of the President by a margin of 81% to 17%. Trump’s
    failure to pass the 50% threshold for approval can be accredited to his standing among
    independents, who disapprove of him 52%/42%.

    A key finding of the poll shows that voters find the Trump administration to be more truthful
    than the news media. The Trump administration is considered truthful by 49% of voters, to 48% of voters who consider it untruthful. Meanwhile, the news media is considered untruthful by a 53% majority of voters, to only 39% who find them truthful (a 14 point gap).

    The partisan split on this topic is clear –89% of Republicans find the Trump administration truthful, versus 77% of Democrats who find the administration untruthful. Conversely, 69% of Democrats find the news media truthful, while a whopping 91% of Republicans
    consider them untruthful. Independents consider both untruthful the Trump administration by a margin of 42%/52% and the news media by a margin of 45%/47%.
    I find the TV Media horribly lacking like CNN, MSNBC and FOX. A conclusion is desired and the spin goes in that direction. I watch BBC News on Cable.

  20. Thank you Professor Kennedy for this insightful blog entry. Throughout my long residency here in Indiana I have shunned voting in primaries. My reasoning was that I would allow the ” party faithful to nominate their candidate and then vote in the general election. This last election awakened me to the folly of my ways. My past political apathy is over, I am now getting involved with a vengeance.
    Regarding the issue of gerrymandering I will say that I have seen this first hand. I grew up in the 9th congressional district in Indiana. This was the district of the honorable Lee Hamilton, a man of honesty and integrity, respected by all. I then moved to Martinsville, IN where for a while we were in another district. Then, out of the blue, no pun intended, we are in the 9th again. The end result of that is the 9th is now represented by some carpet bagging idiot placed in there by outside interests. I know I am going to be lobbying for passage of the measure. Thank you Professor for bring this to my attention.

  21. I remember anoosting you made about not calling names. You are calling names and it doesn’t help!

  22. Susan; are you referring to her comment that Trump is “an embarrassing buffoon”? Is it name calling when you are describing a person’s character? A buffoon is a ludicrous figure; ludicrous is defined in the dictionary as being amusing or laughable through obvious absurdity, incongruity, exaggeration or eccentricity. An excellent description of Trump; and kinder than words than I would use.

    Your comment reminded me of Senator McConnell’s mistaking Senator Liz Warren’s reading of a historical letter which contained references to Sessions’ documented judicial actions regarding racism and falsely accusing her of impugning Sessions’ character. Instead, it was a sexist action on the part of Senator McConnell, which is part and parcel of his character but will not be addressed by the Senate. The male Democratic Senators read the same letter, from Coretta Scott King, in it’s entirety without interruption. It is obviously still “a man’s world” on the Senate floor.

    The issue today, “The Power of the Gerrymander” by any other name would be “The Power of Redistricting” but wouldn’t change the issue or the responded comments. An “embarrassing buffoon” by any other name would still be the ludicrous figure sitting in the White House today and would be no less embarrassing to this country.

    I love semantics! And my three dictionaries.

  23. I have always said that journalists and Democrats have overlooked one major reason why Trump won the Presidency.

    In 2010 the US held its Census. By 2010, Congressional control had flipped back to the Republicans. It was then the Republicans started working on redoing the Congressional and Voting Districts based on the 2010 Census. While vocally the Republicans were being obstructionists to anything from President Obama’s Administration, a few select were planning for the 2012 and 2016 Presidential, Senatorial, and Congressional elections by Gerrymandering districts to favor Republicans. At the same time they were able to dismantle voting rights by putting in place more stringent rules on who could and could not vote, and successfully dismantling the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

    Is it any wonder why Trump won and Clinton lost? In a word,the Republicans “legally” cheated their way to victory. But they didn’t count on the chaos a Trump presidency would bring.

    The good news is Census will take place in 2020 and people are so nervous with the chaos if Trump, I really believe the Democrats will flip control of Congress back to them
    (Both Senate and Congress) – though this is a guess, when even Trump supporters are getting fed up with Trumps antics, think it’s a good guess.

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