Saturday, October 12, 2013

Our government's current grid-lock: the problem and how to fix it. Part 1

   Currently, our system of government appears to be broken. A "government shutdown" has occurred, in which services considered non vital have been eliminated and over 800,000 government workers have been furloughed. This has lasted for over 10 days. A far worse crisis, congress failing to raise the debt limit, may happen in the next week. It is easy to blame congress, but this situation made me think of an important question: even though congress has a 10% approval rating, and the current president's approval rating is at a meager 45%, why do Americans allow the status quo to continue?

       One of main reasons for this problem is Gerrymandering. This is when voting districts are drawn to favor a particular party. There are two different types of Gerrymandering: packing and cracking. Packing is when many of the opposing party's voters are put in one district to lower their impact on the rest of the state. Cracking is when the opposing party's voters are split up into many districts in order to make sure they are a majority in none. This explains why 90% of House Members got re-elected last year, despite the fact that congress's approval rating is so low.

     Using this strategy, 285 of the 2012 House of Representatives races had a margin of victory of 20% or more, while an additional 87 House races had a margin of victory between 10%-20%. The average winning margin was 31.85%. Because of this, most districts have massive majority of voters in one party. This means that the candidates in these districts are more likely to be to the fringes of the parties than if the party makeup of the voters in these districts were the same.

    This results in polarization. Many house members are on the fringes of the parties, and are not willing to compromise. If a congressmen does not defy the opposing party, a candidate even more extreme often takes their place. This is not the first time the government has shutdown for partisan politics, it did so in 1995. However, reaching the debt ceiling could be cataclysmic. The government would be forced to immediately balance its budget, which would take out over half a trillion dollars out of the economy per year which would  cause a recession.  Even worse, it could default, which could cause a depression. Either way, the United State's credit rating would decline, and it is likely global markets would go haywire. This would deeply hurt confidence in the U.S., and could damage relations with large holders of U.S. debt, such as China and Japan.

    One way to limit the use of Gerrymandering is to make laws stating that each district must be five miles wide, which would end some of the most obvious cases of Gerrymandering, such as
Illinois's 4th district, or North Carolina's 12th district. Another law that would help would be that redistricting can not be determined by race, gender, or party affiliation. Districts are already supposed to have roughly equal populations. These measures would not end Gerrymandering, but would make it much harder.

    Right now, brinksmanship in Washington has caused a "government shutdown"and could cause a dreadful default. Obviously, making Gerrymandering harder would not end grid-lock. It will take more steps, and I will write posts about that later. However, these measures would  help solve the problem America needs to address in order to have a government that is more effective and less partisan.

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