Could at-large districts solve Washington’s gridlock?

An institution beset by partisan polarization might benefit from an influx of moderates.

Via the Atlantic and Democracy Journal

By sheer strength of numbers, ideologically moderate Americans should be the most potent force in politics. Since at least 1980, self-identified moderates have outnumbered both liberals and conservatives in presidential exit polls, comprising 41 percent of voters in 2012. Moderates are also a plurality in 25 states, according to 2014 data from Gallup.

Yet this moderate strength seems nowhere evident in Congress. Among House Democrats, the moderate Blue Dog and New Democratic coalitions have shrunk by nearly half since 2010. And among Republicans, the Tea Party’s ascendance has purged most of the GOP’s few remaining moderates. Congressional polarization today, say political scientists Christopher Hare, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal, is at its worst since Reconstruction.

One key step toward reversing this polarization is to replenish the stable of moderates in Congress. Moderates can bridge divides, encourage bipartisanship, and check ideological excesses. And given the vast pools of moderate voters, Congress should have more moderates than it does now to reflect the share of moderates in the electorate. The current political system, however, effectively disenfranchises moderate voters.

There’s one solution that can help reverse that dismal trend: creating more at-large seats in the House of Representatives. If every state with more than two representatives allocated just one seat to an at-large member (while also redrawing its remaining seats), moderates in those states could better exercise their plurality strength as they do in other statewide elections, such as those for the Senate and the White House. And while the remaining geographically determined districts would become somewhat larger as a result, this system would also grant each voter two representatives in the House: one from the voter’s district, and one from the voter’s state.

 

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