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FiveThirtyEight

Politics

A few days ago, under the heading “U.S. and U.K. Redistricting Processes Equally Boneheaded,” Renard and Dan wrote about some of the problems arising from the nonpartisan boundary-drawing process in the United Kingdom.

They mention a bunch of constraints on U.K. districting, but from my perspective,
constraints can be good: they represent less chance to game the system.
In our research in the early 1990s on redistricting in the United States, we found that districting tends to be a good thing, in that it afflicts the comfortable, but that partisanship can make a difference.

That said, I’m no expert on U.K. politics, and if it’s really true that the Conservatives could win a 10-point plurality in the popular vote and still win fewer seats that Labour–and I’ll take Renard and Dan’s word that this is not just an oddity of multiparty voting but also caused in part by districting–then, yes, that sounds like a problem. But it doesn’t sound like a problem with the nonpartisan boundary commissions so much as a problem with other aspects of the system. I doubt that U.S.-style partisan gerrymandering would make things any better!

This reminds me of the story of when I was mocked in the House of Commons. Well, not by name, but in 1994, I think it was, I spoke at a conference in England on redistricting, to tell them of our findings about U.S. redistricting. Someone told me that a parliamentarian with the Dickensian name of Jack Straw had mocked our paper, which was called Enhancing Democracy Through Legislative Redistricting. But then someone else told me that being mocked by Jack Straw was kind of a badge of honor, so I don’t know.

I can see why people in the U.K. would think it silly to have an American come over to lecture them about gerrymandering. But in this case I had reasonable things to say. If only Straw had read our paper instead of just looking at the title!

P.S. In response to some of the comments below: As I already noted, I’m no expert on U.K. politics and am in no position to evaluate Renard and Dan’s specific claims. My point was that, even if you accept the claim that the Conservatives could win a 10-point plurality in the popular vote and still win fewer seats that Labour, it still would not mean that it would be a good idea to replace the U.K.’s nonpartisan districting system with U.S.-style gerrymandering.

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