Gerrymandering: Crash Course Government and Politics #37

Gerrymandering: Crash Course Government and Politics #37

Hi, I’m Craig and this is Crash Course Government
and Politics and today I’m gonna talk about a topic in American politics that tends to
drive people crazy! Ahhh! No it’s not partisanship, or horse race journalism, or the state of
political punditry, although we could easily do episodes on all three of those, and we
might. Nope, today we’re gonna look at the election districts and how they shape electoral
outcomes, and that means – you guessed it – we’re gonna talk about Gerrymandering. Clone: Thank goodness, Gerrymandering is a
blight on our American election system. It completely thwarts the will of the majority, and it’s
responsible for our lopsided house of representatives. Second Clone: Not so fast my left-wing sore
loser friend! Gerrymandering is not nearly as responsible for the 2014 republican congress
as the fact that people like you self-segregated the urban enclaves of socialism. Craig: All right calm down, clones. Gerrymandering
is a little more nuanced than that. Let’s talk it out. [Theme Music] Congressional Apportionment – how many representatives each state gets – is super exciting! Even though it only changes every 10 years. Since
the number of representatives each state gets is based on population, it’s important to
know how many people are in each state. That’s one reason, at least in the constitution,
that we have a census every 10 years. The most populous state, California, has the largest
number of representatives – 53 – and the least populous states have only one. Sorry Alaska,
Delaware, the Dakotas, Vermont, and Wyoming, and Montana, and the state of loneliness.
One is the loneliest number. In those sparsely populated states, figuring
out the election district, which geographic area is represented by a congressman, is easy
because there’s only one district. This makes elections in these states effectively at large
elections, like a state’s choice for senator. Even though there are two senators from each
state, they represent the entire state at large rather than only a part of it like representatives
are supposed to do. The electoral college, the system through which Americans choose
their president, are also a type of at large election. The rest of the states are divided into what
are called single member districts. This means that each election district chooses one representative.
Now you might think it would be simple to divide a state into as many pieces as it has
representatives, but why would you think that? Nothing is simple! Districts are required to be equal – or almost
equal – in population and in most states populations are not evenly distributed across the entire
region. The notion that election districts must encompass equal population is the essence
of the idea of one person, one vote – a principle that was cast into law by the 1962 supreme
court decision in Baker vs Carr. It means that a person’s vote counts equally no matter
where they live, at least as far as the house of representatives goes. In the senate it
doesn’t actually work out because the resident of a small state like Delaware has the same
number of senators – 2 – as a resident of California. To put it another way, in 2014
two senators represented 897,934 Delawareans and the same number of senators represented
the approximately 38 million Californians. In the house, each representative is responsible
for about seven to eight hundred thousand people, which is still a lot but much better than one senator for nineteen million Californians or thirteen million Texans. The idea that people should be equally represented
in congress shouldn’t be controversial, and for the most part it’s not. What is controversial
is the way that minority groups are represented. One of the problems with single member districts
is that they can make it easier to cut minority groups out of the political landscape. After
all, if in a given state only 15% of the residents are minorities, it’ll be more difficult for
them to elect a member of their own group. Even under a plurality rule, unless that person
can appeal to a large number of non-minority people. Congress and the supreme court have
tried to remedy this problem by mandating that there be majority-minority districts,
which is a confusing way of saying districts where the majority of voters are members of
a minority group. This is a little like affirmative action in the realm of voting, and as you
might have guessed, there is a fair amount of disagreement among people who think a lot about it.
Although, I’d bet that number itself is a pretty small…minority. This idea of majority-minority districts leads
us into a really fun aspect of congressional districting – the way that the districts themselves
are drawn, a process known as Gerrymandering after the 19th century political cartoon that
depicted one particular Massachusetts district that looked like a reptile. Oh! There it is.
Looks like a dragon or something. And we all know dragons are reptiles. The man responsible
for this twisted district – the name of my band in high school – was Elbridge Gerry,
hence the name Gerrymander. So districts have to be drawn in a way that they contain roughly
equal populations, so why does it matter if they look convoluted or even somewhat ridiculous
like this? Well, states don’t just draw districts to make them look equal in population, they
draw them to capture certain population characteristics so that one party has a greater chance of
electing a member from a particular district. In the district pictured here, the Illinois
4th, Chicago has been carved up to capture a certain population – me. That’s the district
I live in. Usually district are drawn so that they can capture my vote, or a significant
majority of one party or the other, virtually ensuring that a particular district will elect
only a democrat or republican as the case may be. You might have noticed that thin strip in
the Illinois 4th’s western edge connecting the upper half and the lower half. Look carefully
and you’ll see that it runs along the interstate, which I’m sure means that it has a
huge population. Why do we do this? Because one of the requirements according to federal
election law is that districts not only be roughly the same size in terms of population,
but also they be contiguous, meaning that they can’t be divided completely by other districts. This
requirement results in some pretty weird configurations. So who draws these cockamamie districts anyway?
Well, they’re done by state legislatures. Well, not legislatures themselves, but by
people working at the behest of legislatures. If one party has a majority of the state legislature,
say the democrats, they usually want to draw the districts so that Democrats have a better
chance of winning, republicans do the same thing. This is why state legislature elections
matter so much in census years. Whoever wins that year gets to re-draw the districts. A couple of things to note here. First, there’s
no rule saying that states can’t re-draw their districts whenever they want. Texas tried
to do this in 2003 – not a census year – prompting its democrats to run away to Oklahoma for
a spell. Second, it’s possible for a state to hand the task over to a less biased expert
district drawing person, or group, that might make districts more fair. Hand it over to
me! I’ll make ’em all look like little bunnies. But wait, you might ask yourself, what’s wrong
with this system and why do people think it’s unfair? Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. So imagine a state that’s 60% republican and
40% democrat, and has 5 electoral districts like this one. Let’s call it Clonesylvania.
You could draw districts so that there were 3 republican districts and 2 democratic ones,
accurately reflecting the state’s population, like this. Or you could re-draw it so there
were 3 democratic districts and 2 republican districts, which would be an inaccurate reflection
of the party composition of the state’s population. Or you could simply draw the districts so
you had 5 republican districts and zero democratic ones, like this. So you can see, especially
in the second and third examples how Gerrymandering can result in districts that don’t actually
reflect the political makeup of a state at all. By now you might be fuming at the injustice
of state legislature’s re-drawing districts to make sure that the opposing party has no
chance of winning national congressional elections, and you may have read a number of articles
blaming Gerrymandering for the composition of the current congress and for making congressional
elections generally less competitive. There are a lot of people who feel the same way.
But there’s a counter argument that it’s not the state legislatures that result in solidly
republican or solidly democratic districts, but the fact that democratic voters tend to
cluster in cities where they often outnumber republicans by a lot. So that states like
Ohio, even though the number of democrats and republicans are pretty even with a slight
edge going to democrats perhaps, they all tend to concentrate in urban areas around
Cleveland and Columbus so that the overwhelming majority of the state’s districts are won
by republicans. Thanks Thought Bubble. Congressional districting is fascinating and
really really important for determining the composition of congress, but is also quite
complicated, which as with most things, makes it difficult to understand. But unlike some
other complicated issues concerning policy, Gerrymandering is one that’s easy to criticize
because the visual results are so striking and because it can result in numbers that
just look unfair. This is probably why, come election time, you’ll hear a lot about it.
Now at least you’ll have a better idea what those pundits are talking about and you’ll
be better equipped to making your own decision about the issue. Luckily for you, there’s
more and more data about this stuff every election and always more to learn. Thanks
for watching, I’ll see you next time. Crash Course Government and Politics is produced
in association with PBS Digital Studios. Support for Crash Course U.S. Government comes from
Voqal. Voqal supports non-profits that use technology and media to advance social equity.
Learn more about their mission and initiatives at Crash Course was made with the
help of these less biased expert drawing district drawing people. Thanks for watching.


  1. The problem I have with the "Democrats cluster in Urban districts" is that one could make an equally valid an argument that Republicans cluster into Rural districts. The only difference is that anti-urban sentiment makes it OK to punish city dwellers with less of a vote, but not to punish rural areas.

  2. We can complain about Liberals congregating in Cities, but think about it from this perspective: Do Conservatives want folks who would traditionally vote Democrat to move into their districts? We all know the answer is a resounding "no." And what would happen if Democrats had a eureka moment and decided it was in their best interests to move into more rural and suburban townships? All those gays, Negroes, Latinos, Femi-Nazis, etc. Do you really think conservatives would say, "'bout time y'all showed up! Now we've got competition! Hooray Democracy!"

  3. is gerrymandering illegal? because in some episodes Mr.Craig whispered that word.. just asking, I am not American citizen..

  4. Thank you at least providing the 'pro-gerrymandering' argument.  While there are no doubt some badly drawn districts that unfairly favor the GOP, a lot of the discrepancy is in fact because of dense urban clusters of Democrat voters.  I believe liberals vastly overstate the case against gerrymandering.   At the end of the day, any way you redistrict, someone will cry foul.

  5. What a joke! Am I hearing right? Emily's List supports strong, qualified, and diverse candidates? They only support women who are pro-choice and are a minority. Keep the GOP in power!

  6. The case against gerrymandering is WAY over stated.  Part of the problem is that liberals tend to cluster in large urban areas, so democrats that carry these districts by huge margins.  But, margin of victory in Senate or House races is irrelevant.  You don't get to carry large margins into other races.  Changing  the system to be more "fair" to Dems would involve reverse gerrymandering that would appear nonsensical.  This whole thing smacks of liberal sour grapes.

  7. Craig, I'm surprised you're so uninformed while giving the impression you are.
    If you wish to be more informed, google "Princeton University, "t-test, and gerrymandering"
    Then you and your viewers can learn MUCH more than is contained in this video
    About how fair districts could fairly easily be drawn.

  8. I was watching another show where it said people are gerrymandering themselves too these days by moving into areas where people share their political beliefs. Two-pronged problem.

  9. wouldn't it be more fair if they just made every district in the nation into the shape of a square? Gerrymandering seems confusing and unfair

  10. I would like to try out the Israeli system that is used for elections to the Knesset, where if a party receives a certain percent of the popular vote (3.25% in the case of Israel) you are guaranteed one seat in the legislature. How it would work for the Senate would be a little more complicated, maybe one could say 1% of the popular vote.

    I could see this being a bit more complicated with our population being about 40 times that of Israel's, and the fact replicating their system would be more difficult with our bicameral legislature (the Knesset is unicameral).

    Just a thought.

  11. Why isn't it done with percentages in that state, like %73 to %27, %73 would go to one party, and %27 goes to another?

  12. Okay, totally off topic here… How are the whites of your eyes so dang white?!? I notice it on people because I read something that said people with very white whites of eyes are generally very healthy. Also, thanks for the video. I am watching it again to catch what I probably missed the first go-round. Thank you!

  13. Why not instead of having districts we simply give, say a Californian, 53 votes that can't be repeated. Just do it battle royal style

  14. How do the people who draw the district lines with the intent of favoring one party know which areas are more Republican/Democrat within the state?

  15. I don't get why you don't let everyone vote for their party, tally the votes and distribute the power according to the votes. Like most democratic countries I mean.

  16. Craig,

    Can you please talk slower? you speak too fast it's hard to comprehend what you're saying. Also, can you stop punching that toy eagle, that random burst of volatile behavior is super creepy? lol But I do enjoy your videos minus those two things.

  17. I wish Crash course concentrated less on the American audience, and made videos for everyone around the world to see. Because some videos are more about Americans system and cultures.

  18. So, hang on. The winner of the election gets to decide the boundaries for each seat up for other elections? Does anyone else see how insane that is?

    Why not have an independent commission draw the boundaries and take it out of politics altogether?

  19. funny how some people are naive enough to think that to solve Gerrymandering, all you need is Bi-Partisan committees.

    The problem is, that representatives don't want fair elections, they want SAFE elections. Its the one thing that Representatives from both the Democrats and Republicans can agree with.

    So basically, the power to redraw electoral boundaries, is put into the hands of those who have the most to gain, from those who redraw them themselves. Basically its a massive conflict of interest.

    What the USA Needs, is a national electoral agency, a government department that can withdraw them, independently without interference from elected officials. Canada has one, called Elections Canada, that oversees the redrawing of parliamentary constituencies every few years when populations change.

  20. We have that in my town a bit the majority minority thing. It does help that our town is still very much neighborhood divided by race. There's 2 districts on our City Council that majority black and Mexican neighborhood. One of these districts just elected our City Councils first minority council person. A black woman who is also our first female council person

  21. Actually Gray v. Sanders (1963) established "one person, one vote." Baker v. Carr (1962) just opened the door to that decision by saying that malapporionment is a justiciable question that the Court has the authority to rule on.

  22. This is just another invented idea of politician to keep the control of power, and supress popular votes. At the end republicans and democrats, they all are liar and fight for their own interest. But the problem is not them, is the ignorance that there is among people in the contry, defending a political party as if they care about us… They just throw some bread to people to keep them satisfied while they keep most of the goods. It happens in front of our Eyes, yet we do not see.

  23. I’m here for my AP human geo class, can you guys please tell me the three main points in this video and the pros and cons

  24. Its funny, the UK have a far better voting system, but America has a far better executive system. If only we could both merge those those ideas.

  25. Awkward and uncomfortable. Thumbs down because: you’re not funny, talk to fast while skipping over important topics & biased.

  26. Great video but two corrections:
    1.) Gerry's name was pronounced with a G rather than a J sound.
    2.) A Salamander is an amphibian.

  27. I live in NC, probably the most gerrymandered state in the nation. NC is generally a pink state, but 47% of people voted for Democrats this year. Yet 75% of seats went to Republicans! Oh well, we're number one in something I guess…

  28. Here in WI our state level districts are gerrymandered so that 53% of votes are cast for Democrats and yet 65% of the state Assembly seats are held by Republicans.

  29. Bipartisan laws are stupid regardless, who cares if im represented by a left pr a right, everyones vote should count the same for everything, including the electorial college

  30. Can’t even have a fair honest election anymore in the USA , because they the government officials take the votes from certain areas not completely

  31. Watching this right after Supreme Court made a decision to leave gerrymandering to the States. So now I want to learn about it so we can influence local elections by gerrymandering.

  32. This only proves that the electional college needs to be abolish theres too much loop holes in that system that both partys take advantage of. American voters should be represented in elections not states if the majority of Americans vote against one party in the election no means no! Elections should be won on the battle of ideas not by rigging elections. Gerrymandering needs to end, elections should be fair enough cheating to win elections. Every American voter should be represented equally end of story!

  33. What makes you think that an independent organization will do a better job. They may have been corrupted, paid off by the same people in power to retain power. Or their opponents to gain power.

  34. Just get rid of districts. That way there is better reoresentation and it holds up to the point of the house by the founding fathers: a chamber in coungress filled with elected members proportional with the population of a state compared to the equally represented senate.

  35. The electoral college prevents class differences based on ideology. Historically this always ends in resentment genocide of those who dont conform or war. Thats why Benjamin franklin calls democracy two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for dinner. We have a constitutional republic. Study up on civics and atrocities in history concerning class differences.

  36. The mander part comes from the word salamander. The video just mentions it looks like a reptile or dragon but that doesn't explain the mander part of the name.

  37. What a stupid face this dude has. But I suppose only with this face he would be understood by crash course audience. No offence. In post modern world everything is possible

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