Here’s installment 3 of Bill Bishop’s series on the evolution of polarization in American society (noted previously here). This one is about how gerrymandered districts reflect the self-gerrymandered tastes of its constituents by producing more extreme winners in party primaries. Nothing terribly earth-shaking here, but I found this section interesting:
Dorothy Snyder learned about the great divide first hand.
A rancher and former Waco school board president, she ran this spring in the Republican primary for the 17th Congressional District, newly drawn to be almost 60 percent Republican — solid enough that incumbent Democrat Rep. Chet Edwards could lose.
Snyder ran against State Rep. Arlene Wohlgemuth, who campaigned as “one of the most conservative members of the Legislature.” Wohlgemuth criticized Snyder for serving a year on the board of Waco’s Planned Parenthood of Central Texas. The very conservative Club for Growth poured money into the district supporting Wohlgemuth — published reports say more than $400,000 — and Snyder was painted as the more moderate of the two candidates.
Snyder says she opposes abortion and is a “rock-solid, 100 percent Republican.” But she clearly believes the primary played to the extreme of Republican Party beliefs.
“The process was an awakening for me,” Snyder says from her ranch near Crawford. “I did not expect to be misrepresented. And I think you’re right that the process perhaps forces that to happen.. . . Voters in the primaries are certainly not representative of those who vote in November. They skew to the edges.” Snyder lost by 8 percentage points in the primary run-off.
There is no guarantee Wohlgemuth will beat Edwards, who has served in Congress since 1990. Sooner or later, however, the heavily Republican 17th District will elect a Republican. When it does, the Democratic Party in Congress will move to the left as it loses the moderate Edwards; and the Republican Party will nudge to the right as it gains a more conservative member.
Moderates learned a lesson in the 17th District. Primary elections in heavily partisan districts will be brutal.
Would Snyder run, knowing what she knows today? “No,” she answers, laughing. “That’s easy.”
Dorothy Snyder’s experience is becoming the norm of American politics.
Colby College political scientist L. Sandy Maisel and a team of researchers went into 200 of the nation’s 435 congressional districts in the late ’90s, asking labor leaders, business executives and public officials to recommend good candidates for Congress.
Maisel then interviewed these respected citizens, asking whether they would consider pursuing public office. Nine out of ten said they would never run. Their reasons varied. None liked the idea of raising money to mount a campaign. Maisel expected that complaint.
The Maine political scientist says that one of the “biggest factors” affecting those who decided not to run was homogenous districts, designed by legislatures to be unassailably Republican or Democratic.
The prospective candidates understood that a primary campaign in a homogenous district would likely be “bitter and acerbic,” Maisel says. They sensed “that (the campaign) would be extreme, and most of the issues these people are concerned with are not at the extreme.”
They were afraid of becoming the next Dorothy Snyder, a moderate forced to compete in a highly ideological campaign against an extreme opponent before a homogenous electorate.
I’d feel better about this bit of analysis if Bishop cited one thing about Dot Snyder, the self-described “rock-solid, 100 percent Republican”, which indicated that she was in fact something of a moderate and not simply Arlene Wohlgemuth with fewer connections. Tell me more about her one year on the board of Planned Parenthood in Central Texas. How does a pro-lifer get to do that? Did it affect her opinion on the subject one way or another? I’ve sent an email to Bill Bishop asking him these questions – we’ll see if he answers.