Explaining partisan gerrymandering

In the United States, both state legislative and congressional districts are designed by politicians. These politicians, especially in the Republican-controlled states (this has only been true since 2010 or so) tend to design districts to give a clear and consistent advantage to their party. The canonical example of this is North Carolina (current [smoother] district lines):

The x-axis indicates the district, the y-axis shows the two-party Democratic presidential vote. Given the highly sorted party system currently existing in the United States, the presidential vote functions as a very good proxy for House candidate vote and is more appropriate here than House vote since the candidates are the same in every district. As one can readily see, in North Carolina, Democrats are packed into only three out of thirteen congressional districts, even though they won over 48% of the two-party presidential vote in both 2016 and 2012. Only in 2011 were the lines redrawn to favor the Republicans (and they will continue to favor the Republicans for a long time), before, they favored the Democrats since the 1890s.

Given that not all gerrymanders are created equal, several ways have been proposed to measure this phenomenon.

I. Insufficiency of commonly used methods

One way has been to compare the difficulty of recapturing the majority of the seats relative to winning the majority of the two-party vote in a state by looking at the difference between the presidential vote of the median district and the statewide presidential vote. However, one of the most gerrymandered states by this measure is Tennessee, which is a 60%+ Republican state with two Democratic seats (out of nine total)! Massachusetts (a 60%+ Democratic state with the same number of seats as TN) does not have even a single Republican seat! Yet, nobody can seriously call Massachusetts gerrymandered against the Republicans. Tennessee’s creation of more Democratic seats almost necessitates a higher difference between the median seat and the state due to more Democratic voters having to be taken away from the state’s median seat into the Democratic-held seats. Thus, the median district approach cannot be used as a serious way to measure gerrymandering, as it only looks at one district-the median one.

Another way to measure gerrymandering has been some kind of way of comparing share of seats won by v. share votes cast for a party. This is also a very flawed method.

The problem with these approaches is that they cannot distinguish between this (super-weak Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

and this (strong Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

But pretends there are giant differences between this (super-weak Democratic gerrymander in an evenly tied state with ten districts):

and this (super-weak Republican gerrymander):

As you can see, the problem with this approach is that the most gerrymandered maps by this measure will inevitably be dummymanders -that is, maps in which the party drawing the districts is so thinly spread out, if the popular vote shifts uniformly to the opposing party just a little, the map will look identical to a gerrymander designed by the opposing party.

In any case, any gerrymander has to be judged on two criteria: seat maximization and safety. There is a direct trade-off between the two (as thus, for an evenly tied state in which any and all district boundaries are permitted):

Notice that the curve is bowed in. However, in practice, the difference between a two point and a ten point presidential win margin is worth much more in terms of a House member’s win probability than that between a thirty point and fifty point presidential margin. Given this, the top and the bottom portions of the y-axis should be compressed and the middle expanded. With the axis like this, the curve would be bowed out, and the point of most correct gerrymander be placed at the outermost point of the curve.

Such curves should be designed for every state in the union with a reasonable number of House districts to test for gerrymanders there. Generally, the optimal average win margin for a favored party (that is, one that does not waste votes, but still keeps seats reasonably safe) is probably around ten points for an evenly tied state. Any good gerrymander should be directly on the possibilities frontier (as my strong D gerrymander graph with red bars is), not within it (as my super-weak D gerrymander graph with red bars is).

Ideally, a gerrymander should have

  1. Zero seats flipping on the presidential level between elections outside wave years (on the logic that it is better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush)
  2. Total unity between the House member’s party and the party of the presidential candidate that wins the district (the state that is easily farthest away from fulfilling this ideal is Minnesota; the closest states to this ideal are, as far as I can tell from a quick glance, Maine, Missouri, and North Carolina).
  3. Maximized number of seats given a state’s partisan lean

Goals 1. and 3. are obviously inconsistent if a state hugely changes partisanship between elections.

Pennsylvania failed all the criteria in 2016 (it had split districts both ways, seats flipped in presidential vote between 2012 and 2016, and obviously it didn’t maximize GOP seats in 2016, and probably not in 2012, either), but it’s a pretty clear GOP gerrymander regardless. Wisconsin blatantly failed all the criteria in 2016 and probably failed the third criterion (though not the second) in 2012, though it was a very clear pro-GOP gerrymander in 2012. Michigan and Ohio satisfied all the criteria in 2012, but did not satisfy the last criterion in 2016, due to the state changing partisan lean between those years and there being obvious Democratic seats in both states which could be removed in 2016. North Carolina clearly satisfied all the criteria in 2016, but had some disunity between House member’s and district presidential candidate victor’s party in 2012. Texas satisfied none of the criteria in either 2012 or 2016.

A Cushion for the Trump Economy

I strongly suspect the U.S. will be in recession at some point during Trump’s first term due to the Federal Reserve once again messing up monetary policy (which I think is inevitable at some point in the next five years, at least). Thus, I expect the U.S. labor market to worsen again (though far more mildly than in 08-09 due to the absence of bubbles). However, I also expect the economy to start growing reasonably fast again reasonably soon. Why? A revival of productivity growth. Since 2011, a key headwind for the Obama economy has been a lack of productivity growth, especially in manufacturing, generally associated with the slowdown of world trade and the reduction of the 2000-07 offshoring of less productive sectors to China.

Notice that manufacturing productivity has already started rising again, beginning in September 2016. Sadly, it still has not surpassed its previous peak. But it will, more likely than not this year.

Note, my prediction would be the same under a Hillary administration. Presidents do not have much of an impact over the economy. Though it does seem the total sum of the Trump’s team’s economic knowledge is a tad better than that of HRC’s, the difference is not huge, and both have similar assets and deficiencies about them.

Sunday Assorted Links

1. Men, Whites, Silent Generation, better educated more likely to correctly North Korea on a world map; Blacks, Women, Generation X least likely

2. Montana U.S. House debate. Race believed to be highly competitive by pollsters and skilled observers.

3. This is basically how a bunch of the climate alarmist rhetoric works

4. Internet archive to start ignoring robots.txt

5. This isn’t a bad take

6. In Eastern Europe, atheists are most likely to oppose Muslim immigration

7. There are more than twice motor vehicles and parts dealer jobs than motor vehicles and parts manufacturing jobs in the US

8. Venezuela

Sunday Assorted Links

1. Worries about the great sellout

2. Andrew Sullivan actually writes a good article, for once. Read the comments; they’re gold.

3. Raimondo on the great sellout

4. France is cooked

5. The decline and fall of rebel aspirations in Ghouta

6. Maduro: Venezuela’s worst president?

7. LIFE Magazine’s The Case for Warren (for non-American readers, Governor Earl Warren of California would be later confirmed as Supreme Court Justice by Eisenhower in 1952 and become perhaps the most radical dictator America has ever seen in its history)

8. The carbon tax question

60 Responses for my quiz of politieconomical knowledge

The summary statistics are these:

Mean 7.4 (out of 21)
Standard Error 0.259508445
Median 7
Mode 7
Standard Deviation 2.010143768
Sample Variance 4.040677966
Kurtosis -0.920193616
Skewness 0.034711704
Range 7
Minimum 4
Maximum 11
Sum 444
Count 60
Download a Copy of Harding’s Quiz #1 (Responses).

The most frequently missed question was the one on Goldwater’s share of the vote in Mississippi. Only four out of sixty got that one right, and the correct response option was the one the smallest number chose. Apparently, Goldwater’s segregationist appeal has been memory holed by everyone except election junkies.

The most correctly answered question was the one on whether percentage Black or percentage gun owners best predicts the homicide rate. This was a two-option question, so only one way to miss. 90% got this one right. At least we don’t need to be at that dead horse.

Hillary’s use of Republican rhetoric was successful: the majority wrongly mistook Her pronouncements for either Juan McSame or Willard Mitt Romney. Whoever answered Donald Trump wasn’t really reading, because that’s clearly a “he thinks” at the end.

The South African GDP per capita question was one where conventional racist bias fails the one using it. And most people failed that one. Come on, guys, on rare occasion, Black rule can improve on White rule in some ways.
The answers:

The lowest poverty rate county in Michigan question was correctly answered by the majority, but I think it required Googling the answer to really be sure of, because that answer isn’t really intuitive.

Who supports the Tomahawk strikes against Sharyat airbase?

Triple parentheses used as necessary to indicate Jewish ancestry.

For:

Donald Trump

Elderly Americans

Nikki Haley, that foul Indian

McMaster

Mattis

Pence

Ryan

(((Jared Kushner)))

Ivanka

Every major newspaper editor

Every major TV commentator

Three quarters of the Senate

The (((neocons)))

(((Mark Levin)))

Sundance of the Conservative Treehouse (whiplash from previous position)

Hillary Clinton

Anne-Marie Slaughter

Hillary is 44 (pro-Trump site)

French, UK, Saudi, (((Israeli))) govts

Against:

Young Americans

Scott Greer

Scott Adams

Socialist Twitter

(((Noam Chomsky)))

(((Michael Savage)))

(((Glenn Greenwald)))

(((Matt Yglesias)))

Steve Bannon

Tulsi Gabbard

(((Cernovich)))

(((@Communism_Kills)))

(((@DagnyDelinquent)))

(((Mark Krikorian)))

(((Mickey Kaus)))

Rand Paul

Pretty much all Pepes

Iraqi government

Various people in the Breitbart comments section

  • So, no real Jewish tendency to support the strikes. But a very strong establishment tendency to do so. If these strikes were good for anything, it is to be a kind of ultraviolet light to tell true friends of the people from perfidious elites.

 

110 Predictions for December 31, 2017

Last year’s predictions (with updates as needed) here.

1. More posts will be posted on this blog this year than last year: 70%.

2. U.S. real GDP will expand slower this year than in 2014 (year-to-year; not Q4 over Q4): 90%.

3. U.S. real GDP will expand slower this year than in 2016 (year-to-year; not Q4 over Q4): 60%.

4. The Syrian government will hold more territory on December 31, 2017 than today: 70%.

5. The Kurds in Syria will hold more territory on December 31, 2017 than today: 80%.

6. https://www.torproject.org/download/ will remain accessible on the open Internet in Russia on December 31, 2017: 80%.

7. The unemployment rate in the U.S. will be higher in December, 2017, than in January, 2016: 40%.

8. The Black-White ACT score gap will not narrow in 2017: 50%.

9. The Houthis will hold more territory on December 31, 2017, than today: 30%.

10. The Iraqi government will hold more territory on December 31, 2017, than today: 90%.

11. The Yemeni government will hold more territory in Yemen on December 31, 2017 than today: 60%.

12. The Syrian army will hold Jisr al-Shughur on December 31, 2017: 40%.

13. Al-Mukalla will be held by Yemeni government forces on December 31, 2017: 80%.

14. The Marginal Counterrevolution shall make at least 365 posts during its second year: 90%.

15. The territory held by the Syrian government in and around Aleppo City will expand this year: 90%.

16. This blog will gain more pageviews this year than it did last year: 60%.

17. China will remain formally Communist on December 31, 2017: 90%.

18. Kim Jong-Un will still remain king of North Korea on December 31, 2017: 80%.

19. Robert Mugabe will still be alive on December 31, 2017: 60%.

20. Putin’s approval rating will remain above 40% in every reputable poll in December, 2017: 90%.

21. This blog will achieve a day with at least 400 pageviews: 50%.

22. Comments on this blog this year will be more than last year: 60%.

23. Mosul will be fully under control of the non-Islamic State forces on December 31, 2017: 90%.

24. Palmyra will be fully under the control of the Syrian government on December 31, 2017: 60%.

25. Raqqa will remain under the control of the Islamic State on December 31, 2017: 40%.

26. No Gaza War this year: 60%.

27. No intifada in the West Bank this year: 60%.

28. The Marginal Counterrevolution will have more posts published than Against Jebel al-Lawz in 2017: 90%.

29. The Marginal Counterrevolution will have more pageviews than Against Jebel al-Lawz in 2017: 90%.

30. The Marginal Counterrevolution will have more pageviews per post than Against Jebel al-Lawz in 2017: 30%.

31. The Islamic State will continue to not hold Syrtis on December 31, 2017: 80%.

32. Poroshenko will remain President of Ukraine on December 31, 2017: 90%.

33. The dollar price of oil will be higher on December 31, 2017 than today: 60%.

34. The price of oil will never be higher than $70 per barrel in 2017: 70%.

35. The price of oil will be lower than $60 per barrel on December 31, 2017: 70%.

36. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia: 100%.

37. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in Japan: 80%.

38. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in Vietnam: 90%.

39. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in Indonesia: 100%.

40. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in Germany: 60%.

41. Same-sex marriage will continue to be unrecognized in the Philippines: 70%.

42. China will record growth of 8% or higher in 2017: 10%.

43. China will record growth of 4% or higher in 2017: 90%.

44. China will record growth of 5% or higher in 2017: 80%.

45. China will record growth of 6% or higher in 2017: 50%.

46. China will record growth of 7% or higher in 2017: 40%.

47. Ethiopia will record per capita growth of 7% or higher in 2017: 50%.

48. Ethiopia will record per capita growth of 3% or higher in 2017: 90%.

49. Trump’s approval rating will be above 30% in the latest polls of 2017: 90%.

50. Trump’s approval rating will be above 50% at some point in 2017: 80%.

51. Russia’s economy will record Q4-over-Q4 real GDP growth in 2017: 70%.

52. Russia’s unemployment rate will end the year below 7%: 80%.

53. Russia’s unemployment rate will end the year below 4%: 10%.

54. Russia’s unemployment rate will end the year below 6%: 50%.

55. Russia’s unemployment rate will end the year below 5%: 30%.

56. Not one country will go off the Euro: 100%.

57. Mexico’s per capita GDP growth will be under 3% in 2017: 70%.

58. Mexico’s per capita GDP growth will be under 4% in 2017: 90%.

59. There will be at least two IS-inspired terrorist attacks in the United States that will each kill at least five people: 60%.

60. Belarus’s per capita GDP growth will be above 0% in 2017: 90%.

61. Belarus’s per capita GDP growth will be below 5% in 2017: 60%.

62. Belarus’s per capita GDP growth will be above 1% in 2017: 60%.

63. Africa will experience the start of one new civil war this year: 60%

64. U.S. nominal GDP growth will be under 7% (year-to-year; not Q4 over Q4) in 2017: 100%.

65. U.S. nominal GDP growth will be under 4% in 2017 (year-to year; not Q4 over Q4): 60%.

66. Trump’s approval rating will be below 70% at every point in 2017: 90%.

67. Russian life expectancy will increase in 2017: 70%.

68. The Wilshire 5000 Full Cap Price Index will be lower on December 31 of this year than today: 80%.

69. The U.S. will enter a recession in 2017: 40%. Normally, a yield curve like this would not indicate a recession for next year, but we do not live in normal times.

70. Iran will not get a nuclear weapon: 100%.

71. Russia will not invade any of the following: Finland, Alaska, the Baltic States, Poland: 100%.

72. Legislation on constructing Trump’s border wall will be signed by Trump in 2017: 90%

73. Netanyahu will still be Prime Minister of Israel at the end of 2017: 80%.

74. Afewerki will still be dictator of Eritrea at the end of 2017: 90%.

75. Tunisia will still be a democracy at the end of 2017: 90%.

76. Libya will not be reunified in 2017: 60%.

77. The Tobruk government will hold 100% of Benghazi on December 31, 2017: 80%.

78. Somaliland will remain unrecognized by the U.S. government: 70%

79. Hillary Clinton’s favorability rating will not rise above 60% in 2017: 80%

80. Le Pen will win the French elections in 2017: 40%.

81. Yemen will not be unified on December 31, 2017: 100%.

82. Syria will not be unified on December 31, 2017: 100%.

83. Keith Ellison will win the DNC Chair election: 60%

84. Turkish Cyprus will reunify with southern Cyprus: 0%.

85. Russia will hold on to Krim: 100%.

86. Russian-backed forces will hold on to both the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk: 80%.

87. Not a single act of terror will be prevented in 2017 where formerly and presently secret NSA mass surveillance programs made a crucial difference: 80%.

88. I will have at least 1000 Twitter followers by the end of 2017: 60%.

89. Same-sex marriage will be legal in at least one more country in 2017: 100%.

90. Same-sex marriage will be legal in at least five more countries in 2017: 40%.

91. Same-sex marriage will be legal in at least ten more countries in 2017: 10%.

92. Vehicle miles driven per capita in the U.S. will be higher in 2017 than in 2016: 70%.

93. The Islamic State will carry out at least five terrorist attacks carried out by men within Turkey that will kill more than five people in 2017: 80%.

94. The Islamic State will not carry out a single terrorist attack carried out by men within Israel except against the Arabs that will kill more than five people in 2017: 90%.

95. The Islamic State will not carry out a single terrorist attack carried out by men within Saudi Arabia except against the Shiites that will kill more than five people in 2017: 80%.

96. The Islamic State will not carry out a single terrorist attack carried out by men within Qatar except against the non-Muslims that will kill more than five people in 2017: 90%.

97. Chinese GDP per capita (PPP) will be considered by the World Bank to be above that of Thailand in 2017: 90%.

98. A bill cutting personal income taxes will be signed into law by President Trump in 2017: 70%.

99. Neither of my blogs will reach 100,000 pageviews this year: 70%.

100. Neither of my blogs will reach 100,000 pageviews combined this year: 60%.

101. My blogs will reach at least one million pageviews combined this year: 10%.

102. Not one presently Communist country will become known as a formerly Communist country by December 31, 2017: 70%.

103. Rex Tillerson will be confirmed as Secretary of State: 70%

104. I will be banned or shadowbanned by at least one website, Twitter feed, Facebook account, or YouTube channel by the end of this year: 100%.

105. I will be banned or shadowbanned by at least five websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook accounts, or YouTube channels by the end of this year: 90%.

106. AHETPI/CPIAUCSL will be lower in 2017 than in 2016: 70%.

107. A Supreme Court justice will be confirmed in 2017: 90%

108. I will finish at least three books of over 100 pages this year: 60%.

109. I will finish Scott Sumner’s Midas Curse before the end of the year: 90%.

110. Not one person (myself excepted) will, as per the comment policy, post one or more PGP-encrypted comments encrypted with my public key on any of my blogs: 60%.