Wednesday, June 13, 2018

How Gerrymandering Negatively Impacts the Economic Development of a District

by Nomad

We all know that gerrymandering as a tool to win elections has proved advantageous. Some critics have claimed that this partisan tactic has in recent years become more extreme and has begun to warp democracy.
In a search for the facts, researchers at Boston College decided to look a bit closer. They began by asking a simple question: How does gerrymandering affect the quality of political representation in a district?

What they found, according to NPR's social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam, shouldn't be much of a surprise. Without fair competition, these politicians become less responsive to the needs of the people they represent.
Because their position is essentially guaranteed, there is less for them to worry about when it comes re-election time.
For that reason, politicians in gerrymandered districts have less motivation to care what their constituents think, to consider the needs of the community or to vote accordingly.

Yet, the researchers found something more. They discovered that where states have become more heavily gerrymandered, economic development has been stymied. That's true no matter which party is favored.

It had a lot to do with credit opportunities and leaning practices. Professor Rawley Heimer and his colleagues discovered that as these districts became potentially more gerrymandered, individuals have more difficulties accessing credit. Lenders, they found, are attuned to political pressure, to regulations, to oversight, to legislation. As politicians become less accountable to voters, there's less pressure on lenders to do the right thing by consumers.

In a paper entitled Pushing Boundaries: Political Redistricting and Consumer Credit, researchers determined that consumers lose access to credit when their congressional district boundaries are irregularly redrawn to benefit a political party.
Reductions in credit access are concentrated in states that allow elected politicians to draw political boundaries and in districts where subsequent congressional elections are less competitive. We find similar reductions in credit access when state senate district boundaries are irregularly redrawn and when states make it more difficult for constituents to vote. Overall, our findings are consistent with theories suggesting that less-competitive political races reduce politicians’ incentives to cater to their constituents’ preferences.
Adequate access to credit is the key to development for poorer households. That's true whether you live in Texas or Malawi, in Wisconsin or Ghana. Many development professionals who work in Third World nations believe that this lack of credit has negative consequences on living standards overall. Improved access to credit, they argue, help poor rural households engage in more productive income-generating activities.

If this research is correct, gerrymandering not only undermines representational government, it also erodes economic development.

This information comes at an important moment. At the end of this month, the Supreme Court is expected to weigh in on the contentious practice of gerrymandering. The justices will be examining the constitutional legitimacy of partisan gerrymandering in two cases — Gill v. Whitford, a case from Wisconsin, and Benisek v. Lamone, a case from Maryland.

This study on the economic implications of gerrymandering could provide yet another reason for the Supreme Court to rein in the practice.

Below is a map of the most and least gerrymandered districts in 2014.