Does gerrymandering cause polarization?

Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, Howard Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

174 Scopus citations


Both pundits and scholars have blamed increasing levels of partisan conflict and polarization in Congress on the effects of partisan gerrymandering. We assess whether there is a strong causal relationship between congressional districting and polarization. We find very little evidence for such a link. First, we show that congressional polarization is primarily a function of the differences in how Democrats and Republicans represent the same districts rather than a function of which districts each party represents or the distribution of constituency preferences. Second, we conduct simulations to gauge the level of polarization under various "neutral" districting procedures. We find that the actual levels of polarization are not much higher than those produced by the simulations. We do find that gerrymandering has increased the Republican seat share in the House; however, this increase is not an important source of polarization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)666-680
Number of pages15
JournalAmerican Journal of Political Science
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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