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.