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This post was originally published at Malark-O-Meter, which statistically analyzes fact checker rulings to judge and compare the factuality of politicians, and to measure our uncertainty about those judgments. I also provide commentary on election prediction algorithms and fact checking methodology.

Glenn Kessler, Fact Checker at The Washington Post, gave two out of four Pinnochios to Barney Frank, who claimed that GOP gerrymandering allowed Republicans to maintain their House majority. Kessler would have given Frank three Pinocchios, but Frank publicly recanted his statement in a live television interview. Here at Malark-O-Meter, we equate a score of three Pinocchios with a PolitiFact Truth-O-Meter score of "Mostly False". Kessler was right to knock off a Pinocchio for Barney's willingness to publicly recant his claim. I'll explain why Kessler's fact check was correct, and why he was right to be lenient on Frank.

Frank was wrong because, as a Brennan Center for Justice report suggests, the Democrats wouldn't have won the House majority even before the 2010 redistricting. Although the Republicans clearly won the latest redistricting game, it doesn't fully explain how they maintained their majority. The other factor is geography. Dan Hopkins at The Monkey Cage cited a study by Chen and Rodden showing that Democrats are clustered inefficiently in urban areas. Consequently, they get big Congressional wins in key urban districts, but at the cost of small margin losses in the majority of districts. (And no, fellow fans of the Princeton Election Consortium, it doesn't matter that the effect is even bigger than the one Sam Wang predicted; it's still not only because of redistricting.)

So why was Kessler right to knock off a Pinocchio for Barney's willingness to recant?  At Malark-O-Meter, we see fact checker report cards as a means to measure the overall factuality of individuals and groups. If an individual recants a false statement, that individual's marginal factuality should go up in our eyes for two reasons. First, that person made a statement that adheres to the facts. Second, the act of recanting a falsehood is a testament to one's adherence to the facts.

Regardless of its causes and no matter what Barney's malarkey score ends up being because of his remarks about it, what do we make of the disparity between the popular vote and the House seat margin, which has occurred only three other times in the last century? Should we modify U.S. Code, Title 2, Chapter 1, Section 2c (2 USC § 2c), which became law in 1967 and requires states with more than one apportioned Representative to be divided into one-member districts? Should we instead go with a general ticket, which gives all House seats to the party that wins a state's popular vote? Is there some sensible middle ground? (Of course there is.)

The answer to these questions depends critically on the role we want the geographic distribution of the U.S. population to play in determining the composition of the House. The framers of the Constitution meant for the House of Representatives to be the most democratic body of the national government, which is why we apportion Representatives based on the Census, and why there are more Representatives than Senators. Clearly, it isn't democratic for our redistricting rules to be vague enough that a party can benefit simply by holding the House majority in a Census year. Is it also undemocratic to allow the regional geography of the United States to determine the House composition?

I don't think so. Instead, the geographic distribution of humans in the United States should determine the House composition. There are a bunch of redistricting algorithms out there that would help this happen. The underlying theme of the best algorithms is that Congressional districts should have comparable population size. Let's just pick an algorithm and do it already. And if we're not sure which of these algorithms is the best one, let's just do them all and take the average.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cherie clark, MPociask

    Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

    by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 03:10:11 PM PST

  •  We would have sent an EV for Obama and a Dem (0+ / 0-)

    to the House for sure and didn't because of redistricting.

    The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dreams shall never die. ~ Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy

    by cherie clark on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 03:27:12 PM PST

  •  I am behind (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Computer-driven redistricting.  Make it freeware.  See the new result with each new census.  Get it over with.  I think if you combine this with increasing House membership (at least doubling, perhaps more), this would help.  I think it would help even more if you abolished primaries, and held only one election, using range voting.  

    But I am becoming increasingly drawn to the idea of holding party-based elections instead of individual-based elections, at least for house members.  Voters are typically voting for a party, anyway.  So, have state-wide elections, and apportion the house delegation based upon the state-wide result.  Parties get to pick who to send (but would presumably advertise who they were sending in advance).  This makes gerry-mandering impossible - right now, for example, "good" district drawing can result in a state that is split 51-49 having its entire delegation be part of the of the party of 51.  Assuming an even dumber of house delegates, a 51-49 split would mean an equal split, and assuming an odd number, the 51 party would have one more rep.  

    •  D'oh (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Meant to say, make it open source.  Freeware is good too, though.

    •  I agree about open source, but... (0+ / 0-)

      ...disagree about party-based voting. There have been a few cases in the last three elections when I have not voted along party lines in Congressional elections. In those cases, I would definitely not have wanted to vote for the candidate in my party (I'm a registered Democrat). I do not vote for parties, I vote for candidates.

      Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

      by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:21:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I think we're making... (0+ / 0-)

    ... a big mistake trying to wash away the impact of Redistricting.  If we do, then we will not focus on getting control back of those key Dem/Swing states in 2020.  Even more than that, states that may be impacted by SCOTUS killing off the redistricting protecting in the Voting Rights Act.

    One can not look at the House results in Ohio and PA and not see that redistricting didn't impact it.  Ignore it at our own risk.  Even more so because that's where a lot of the GOP Money in 2020 will be focused on: keep those state houses, and expanding into others.

    •  Okay, but... (0+ / 0-)

      ...the evidence suggests that redistricting isn't the only cause for the GOP maintaining control of the House. The problem is much deeper than that.

      In the end, more objective redistricting rules will solve both of the problems, which are gerrymandering and the geographic eccentricities of the United States.

      Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

      by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:48:46 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I don't think it was a false at all. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    The House is going to end up 234-201.
    The Democrats would have needed to swing 12 seats.

    Redistricting in Ohio certainly hosed Democrats out of at least 2 seats, probably more.

    There is a 12-4 division of R to D due to a completely partisan process. It is completely obvious, and there are emails from Republicans admitting this.

    Wisconsin's redistricting plan certainly cost Democrats as well.

    These are the states that I'm most familiar with, but it happened elsewhere as well.

    Redistricting undoubtedly cost Dems seats in North Carolina, Kentucky, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Do you dispute the effects of partisan redistricting to favor Republicans in any of the above states? You can already get to the 12 seats needed to flip from these states alone.

    The Democratic gerrymandering in Illinois doesn't cover the losses from the Republican gerrymandering in these other states.

    You are suggesting that the Brennan Center for Justice agrees that partisan redistricting is not responsible for the Republican Party's House majority. I went to their site. Here is their redistricting article from the front page:

    They don't seem to agree with your conclusion. I think the way you wrote it in your diary is misleading:

    On November 7, Americans woke up again to a Republican-controlled House of Representatives. And whether they like it or not, Americans should get used to this leadership. Republican control of the lower chamber could extend well past the 113th Congress, thanks in part to the once-a-decade process of redistricting.

    What this means for federal lawmaking, we have yet to see. But understanding how the Republican party locked in their control of the House is instructive — especially as we reflect on the election, and as we consider reforms that allow voters to choose their leaders, instead of the other way around.

    First, we need to look back to 2010. When Republicans won big in elections across the country that year — picking up 63 seats in Congress, six governorships and 675 state legislative seats previously held by Democrats. Their victories had a lasting impact. The GOP took control just at the moment that Congressional lines were about to be redrawn. Thanks to the 2010 midterms, Republicans had the power to draw the lines for nearly four times as many districts as Democrats.

    The GOP took advantage of redistricting by shoring up vulnerable incumbents who might have otherwise lost re-election. The 2010 wave brought many new Republican faces to Congress, many of whom represented districts that leaned Democratic. For example, Rep. Lou Barletta (PA-11) was the first Republican elected to represent his Scranton and Wilkes-Barre-based district since 1980. Barletta's new district gave President Obama about 10 percent less of the vote than his old one would have. On Tuesday, Barletta coasted to re-election. Other Republican freshmen, such as Rep. Renee Ellmers (NC-2) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (TX-27), saw similarly favorable changes to their districts and handily won re-election.

    Republicans would have had trouble holding onto these districts before redistricting, and now they will control these districts in 2013. The long-term implications of this are important. Not only did redistricting make it easier for Republicans to keep control of Congress this election, but it also may have made it easier for them to keep control over the next decade.

    If you happen to be talking about the older (pre-election) report from the same authors as the above, then they said:
    Republicans were the clear winners of the 2010 redistricting cycle. Compared to the current partisan makeup of Congress, the net effect of redistricting was roughly a “wash.” However, before redistricting, Republicans were not in position to maintain long-term control of several seats they won in the 2010 election. During redistricting, Republican-controlled legislatures shored up many of their recent gains: The GOP may now be in position to maintain long-term control of about 11 more seats than they would have under the pre-redistricting district lines.
    "About 11" is pretty close to 12, which is the number Dems were short in flipping the House. If you only give them 11, then the House is 223-222. Hardly a strong enough reed to pin a "mostly false" upon. Depending on your generosity and views on how the campaigning would have gone in what was otherwise a Democratic landslide year, amending Frank's statement to include either "probably" or "possibly" would have made it straightforwardly true.

    The plural of anecdote is not data.

    by Skipbidder on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:02:34 PM PST

    •  No. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      To quote from your first block quote, "Not only did redistricting make it easier for Republicans to keep control of Congress this election..." They go on to write, "For this past election, redistricting may not have seemed all that consequential. Yet that belies the importance of the process in shaping what happens for the next decade."

      So the Brennan Center's position is that redistricting made it easier for the Republicans to maintain control of the House, but it is not the only reason why Republicans maintained control of the House. At least, that's the position of Sundeep Iyer, who is the chief quantitative analyst for the Brennan Center, who was quoted in Kessler's fact check, who co-wrote the article that you block quoted, and who was a main author on the center's report.

      Furthermore, your math is wrong. From Kessler's article:

      It takes 218 seats to win control of the House. Democrats have taken 195 seats, and seven races remain undecided.

      Let’s give Frank every benefit of the doubt here and assume Democrats will win all seven races that are too close to call — even though Republicans hold a lead in two of those contests. We’ll also assume that Democrats could take back all 11 seats that leaned GOP after redistricting. That would give the party just 213 seats, which is still short of a House majority.

      Lastly, Barney Frank himself would now disagree with you.

      Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

      by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:52:02 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  ok (0+ / 0-)

        Let's take this in bits.

        We need to get to 12 seats.

        How many House seats do you believe that partisan redistricting costs Democrats in Ohio?

        The plural of anecdote is not data.

        by Skipbidder on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:57:29 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Okay. In bits. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          We need to get to 12 seats
          How do you figure? Elections were held in all 435 House seats. The Republicans had 242 seats. The Democrats had 193. We had a pretty big gap to close there. We gotta make sure we're clear on that bit before we get to the next one.

          Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

          by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:10:05 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  sorry (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Brash Equilibrium

            I don't think that we are going to need to get to the next bit. I thought that I could have made a good case to get to more than 12 seats. I can't get to 22 more seats without assuming a lot more than I'm comfortable assuming. It was a math fail.

            The plural of anecdote is not data.

            by Skipbidder on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:18:41 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

        •  Whoops (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Brash Equilibrium


          My math really WAS wrong.

          I was going to argue for a net of about 15 more seats via elimination of the partisan redistricting.

          Somehow 201 plus 15 added up to 226 instead of 216.

          I'd edit my comments if possible, but it isn't.

          Thanks for pointing out the mistake.

          The plural of anecdote is not data.

          by Skipbidder on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:13:40 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Like Barney Frank... (0+ / 0-)

            ...your malarkey score is mitigated by your willingness to publicly admit a factual misstep. Score one for rational conversation.

            And hey, it's just as undemocratic that the Republicans control the House because more geographic area of the United States is in the red zone! So your anger-driven mathematical mistake is understandable.

            Brash Equilibrium /brASH ēkwəˈLIBrēəm/ Noun: a state in which the opposing forces of snark and information are balanced

            by Brash Equilibrium on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:36:00 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  The New Math (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Brash Equilibrium

      201 + 12 is not equal to 223.

      The plural of anecdote is not data.

      by Skipbidder on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 07:16:23 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

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