Lost the Election? Perhaps ‘Gerrymandering’ Was the Reason

By: Madhav Ramesh

What is Gerrymandering and why is it so essential to find a viable solution to resolve it?

Gerrymandering is not a newfound concept that has been concocted recently. It originated from Governor Elbridge Gerry in Massachusetts in the early 1800s when he passed a piece of legislation for the government to manipulate the boundaries of the voting districts such that the districts would get the majority of votes for that particular party. Gerry wanted to break the Federalist stronghold of the House of Representatives, so he manipulated the shapes of the district so that the votes would benefit the Democratic-Republicans. Because of this, Massachussetts sent three Democratic-Republican representatives out of the five total representatives for Massachusetts, despite the fact that all five positions were filled by Federalists the year before. Elkanah Tisdale, a satirical political cartoonist, compared the distortion of these districts to the shape of a salamander, which eventually led to the term “gerrymander”.

Gerrymandering directly affects how many representatives from a particular party can be sent to the House of Representatives. The way the districts are drawn is decided by the state government and the majority party can shift the shapes and sizes of the districts so that the voting leans heavily towards the state-controlled party, rather than the true voice of the state. On multiple occasions, the number of representatives representing the state in Congress did not even closely compare to the actual popular voting proportions of the entire state. For example, the state of Pennsylvania voted for the Democrats over the Republicans in 2012, in terms of total popular vote – 49% of the vote to be exact. However, the GOP won 72% of the seats in Pennsylvania. Despite the fact that the Democrats outnumbered the Republicans in the votes in the state, the Republicans gained a significant advantage in their party’s representation in Congress. The reasons behind this imbalance can be directly attributed to gerrymandering.

How exactly does gerrymandering work? Take North Carolina for example. The urban centers of North Carolina contain the most amount of Democrats, while the rest of the state consists of mostly Republicans. The majority of the population lives in the urban centers; however, through gerrymandering, the state’s districts push all the urban centers that contain the majority of Democrats in two districts through drawing peculiarly shaped districts. Because of this, nine of the twelve representative were Republicans, despite the entire state leaning toward Democrats. Some of the ways in which gerrymandering is done is not as concrete the elections in North Carolina. Sometimes, the majority party controlling the shapes of the districts can barely scrape a simple majority (not to the degree of North Carolina), as they do not have enough voters to win many seats in Congress.

There are two types of gerrymandering: packing and cracking. Packing refers to when parties try to “pack” as many of the like-minded voters into a voting district to create a majority. Cracking, on the other hand, refers to when the party spreads the voters out to dilute the majority in that state and create a permanent minority. Not only does this practice have a negative political impact, it also has other repercussions, like the oppression of minorities. Manipulating the percentage of certain types of voters that are in each district often happens where minority groups, like African Americans and immigrants, live. Despite legislation like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prevented racial gerrymandering from occurring, due to the geographical nature of states, racial gerrymandering still does occur. In rare instances, gerrymandering can favor the minority groups. For example, groups like the The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) have attempted to push for redistricting that benefited African-Americans. Whether the gerrymandering favors the majority or the minority is unfair to the general voting body and this problem has to be fixed as soon as possible.

Either way, whether it is the majority or the minority groups getting favoritism in the district, makes the system of gerrymandering unfair and unrepresentative of the true voting results.

In his State of the Union address in early 2016, former President Barack Obama called for a change, stating, “If we want a better politics, it’s not enough to just change a congressman or a senator or even a president…We have to change the system to reflect our better selves. I think we’ve got to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around. Let a bipartisan group do it” (Obama, 2016). For the former President to highlight this in his State of the Union address  indicates that this issue is of grave importance. There have been some proposed solutions to this issue. One solution is what the states of Washington, California, and Arizona are currently using. They have created an independent committee that decides on the boundaries of the districts. This allows the partisan bias that plagues the gerrymandered system we have today to disappear. However, solely having a group of individuals with no political affiliations does not completely fix the problem at hand. There are numerous regulations to balance populations and limited regulations for contiguity. There needs to be legislation to prevent the distortion of the shapes of the district, similar to that implemented by the Legislative Services Bureau of Iowa. Iowa ensures that all their districts are shaped like polygons. By standardizing the shapes of the districts, it further eliminates the chances of bias for a political affiliation to influence the representation in Congress. The best option that most countries use is simple proportional representation, as multiple other countries from Europe and around the world use this system and have proved more representative of the voting population. With proportional representation, the distribution of votes from the entire state would determine the percentage of representatives that are in Washington D.C.

Gerrymandering is a severe problem that needs to be dealt with. In the recent House of Representative elections, the Associated Press calculated that the GOP won 22 more seats than what the party should have, ensuring the Republicans to have a comfortable majority over the Democrats. However, this is not to say that the Republicans are the only ones to gerrymander, as both parties have manipulated the districts throughout the course of history. All individuals should be able to be equally represented and  gerrymandering does not provide an accurate account of the voter’s voice.   Once more people understand what gerrymandering is and its effects on the political system, there will be a call for change. Hopefully sooner than later.

Works Cited

The Rational Statesmen: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un

By: Tsahi Halyo

Though tensions are high between the United States and North Korea, through an analysis using game theory, the potential for a nuclear fallout may not nearly be as high as made out to be.

It is a commonly held assumption by those in the media that the recent war of words between President Trump and Kim Jong Un represents a dangerous turn away from diplomacy that vastly increases the chances of nuclear war. However, a game theory analysis of the current situation can show how the threat of nuclear war is exaggerated and why North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons may stabilize the situation in the Korean peninsula. A full analysis is beyond the purview of this article; this article will restrict itself to merely analyzing the reason behind North Korea’s nuclear programme, why nuclear weapons act to stabilize a situation and the introduction of anti-missile technology works to undermine it, and why fears of a nuclear war are overblown.

Quick Game Theory Introduction:

To illustrate key concepts in game theory that will make the rest of the piece clearer, let us begin with a famous problem in game theory known as The Prisoner’s Dilemma. Consider the following scenario: two men are arrested at the scene of a murder (punishable by life in prison); however, the district attorney lacks the evidence to convict them of murder and instead only has enough evidence to convict them of trespassing (punishable by 1 year in prison). In an attempt to get at least one murder conviction the DA offers each prisoner a plea deal: if he confesses and betrays the other prisoner then he’ll walk free. If both accept the plea deal then they’ll both be sentenced to 10 years in prison. The two prisoners can’t communicate. What should each prisoner do?

(Player 1, Player 2)

Accept Deal Refuse Deal

Accept Deal

(10, 10)

(0, Life)

Refuse Deal (Life, 0)

(1, 1)

The above table represents the game, with the vertical axis representing Player 1 and the horizontal representing Player 2. In the parentheses the results are written as:  (Player 1 sentence, Player 2 sentence).

To find the optimal strategy for each player let us consider a Nash Equilibrium, the situation in which any unilateral change of strategy (changing from refusing the deal to accepting it) will impact the player negatively. In this case there is only one equilibrium point at which both prisoners confess. If either player decides to unilaterally refuse the deal he’ll be sentenced to life in prison. This is the optimal strategy despite the fact that if both prisoners were to cooperate they would both have lighter sentences.

The Rationale Behind North Korea Acquiring Nuclear Weapons:

The rationale behind North Korea’s nuclear programme is simple. Only by creating a nuclear arsenal will Kim Jong Un be assured that the U.S. will not invade and depose him or launch any nuclear strike against him.

This behavior can be explained using a game called Nuclear War. In this game we will make a few assumptions. First, that if a nuclear strike is launched at any one of the players a retaliatory strike will be ordered launched back. Second, that both players are rational in that both will pick the optimal strategy. If both players choose to launch their nuke then both players are destroyed; if either player chooses to nuke his opponent, given the surety of the retaliatory strike, both players are destroyed; if both players choose to not nuke the other the status quo remains.

U.S.        \       North Korea

Nuke

Doesn’t Nuke

Nuke

Nuclear Annihilation

Nuclear Annihilation

Doesn’t Nuke

Nuclear Annihilation

Status Quo

Once again, to find the optimal strategy for both players let us consider the Nash Equilibrium. In this game, the Nash Equilibrium is in the case that neither player chooses to fire his missiles. As seen in the table above, a player’s deciding to preemptively fire missiles dooms both to nuclear annihilation. Since firing first causes one’s own destruction, it’s never advantageous to fire first. Consequently, the winning strategy for both players is to hold off and allow the favorable outcome of the status quo.

A nuclear armed North Korea is rightly denounced as a danger to the West. Their government may sell nuclear material to hostile actors (e.g: terrorists) and their successful acquisition of atomic bombs in the face sanctions may embolden other rogue powers to develop nuclear weaponry as well. Nevertheless, the threat of nuclear war is blown out of proportion in the public discourse. As shown above, both rational players will choose to maintain the status quo.

Why ICBMs are better for peace than anti-missile technology:

Given the development of the THAAD and Patriot anti-missile systems it is natural to ask whether these systems increase the chances of peace or whether both sides increasing their nuclear stockpiles would prove better. Common sense would dictate that defensive weaponry should help the cause of peace while the construction of ICBMs should cause the opposite; however, game theory can show that the reverse is actually true. Much like how a knight’s armour gives him an advantage over an armed peasant in allowing him to attack the peasant with impunity (the armour protects the knight from the peasant’s sword); defensive weaponry allows the nation possessing it to attack countries that lack it without any fear of consequences. By taking the danger out of war, defensive weaponry makes war a much more palatable, and in effect, probable option.

Let us now recreate the Nuclear War game shown above with the additional caveat that THAAD is capable of intercepting all North Korean missiles, meaning that the U.S. has a successful nuclear defensive shield. The game would now appear as so:

U.S.        \       North Korea

Nuke

Doesn’t Nuke

Nuke

North Korea Annihilated

North Korea Annihilated

Doesn’t Nuke

North Korea Annihilated

Status Quo

Where in the original game both parties would be annihilated in the case either party launched their missiles, in the modified game only North Korea would be destroyed. In this game there are two Nash equilibria, both being the case that U.S. chooses to nuke North Korea. The optimal strategy would then be to destabilize the peninsula and launch a first strike. If the U.S. were to only build additional ICBMs, the original balance of power created by the original game would remain unchanged. It is then clear that developing anti-missile technology is more destabilizing than increasing one’s nuclear stockpiles.

Conclusions:

The threat of nuclear war is much exaggerated despite the recent spike in North Korean-American tensions. Using Game Theory, it is possible to show that given that the leaders of the U.S. and North Korea are rational, both nations will inevitably choose to de-escalate rather than cause a devastating nuclear war. In addition, it is possible to demonstrate that an arms race is safer than the development of anti-missile technology. If you’ve been staying up at night because the North Korean threat you should get some rest.

Sources:

  1. Nuclear Weapons and Proliferation: A Cheat Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://web.stanford.edu/~imalone/NuclearWeaponCheatSheet.pdf
  2. Manea, M. (2016). Game Theory. Retrieved October 15, 2017, from https://ocw.mit.edu/courses/economics/14-126-game-theory-spring-2016/lecture-notes/MIT14_126S16_gametheory.pdf
  3. Game Theory and Nuclear Weapons. (n.d.). Retrieved October 14, 2017, from http://www.umsl.edu/~naumannj/Geography%20PowerPoint%20Slides/russia%20-%20former%20USSR/Game%2520Theory%2520and%2520Nuclear%2520Warfare%2520condensed.pdf

Hit Me With Your Best Shot

By: Deanna Park

Recently, South Korea and the United States have decided to deploy an advanced missile defense system, also known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti missile system, on the Korean Peninsula to counter North Korean threats. THAAD is to be used as protection against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and its growing Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) capabilities.

Following the election of US President Donald Trump, the US has taken an increasingly militarily inclined agenda in dealing with North Korea. Trump and his administration called the deployment an important decision to bolster defense efforts and also criticized President Moon Jae-In of South Korea for seeking “appeasement” with Pyongyang.

The US’s changed tone in dealing with North Korea has elicited far from positive reactions from China. Shortly after the announcement of the deployment, China’s Foreign Ministry released its own statement, saying that the decision would change the strategic balance in the region and undermine China’s security and interests. China is particularly concerned about THAAD in South Korea, because the system would give the US military the ability to quickly detect and track missiles launched in China as well. Chinese President Xi Jinping urged Trump to resolve the crisis through dialogue and expressed concern about the ongoing situation.

But Beijing’s disapproval of the deployment was felt strongest in its actions against Seoul. The government-controlled news media has urged boycotts of South Korean products. South Korean bands have been denied visas to perform in China, and South Korean shows have disappeared from Chinese television and streaming services. The Chinese news media has also played a central role in fueling protests. An opinion piece by Xinhua, the official news agency, suggested that the South Korean conglomerate Lotte was an accomplice in an effort to undermine China and that it was no longer welcome in the country.

Among those hit the hardest is the Korean tourism industry. As China orders mainland travel agencies to cancel group trips to South Korea, bans selling package tours to Korea and announces unofficial sanctions against South Korea, the Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) has predicted there could be a drop of 4.7 million or 27% in Chinese tourists this year. Chinese visitors made up 46.8% of tourists in South Korea last year. The numbers have declined every month since March but particularly devastating in May when arrivals dropped to below a million for the first time since the MERS epidemic in 2015. KTO officials predicted that if the current trend continued, the South Korean tourism industry could enter a long-term depression. Chinese tourists are also big spenders and duty free stores, such as that of Lotte, have taken a hit as sales have plunged 40% from a year earlier. Chinese tourists account for as much as 80% of duty free sales in South Korea. In the last decade, China’s burgeoning middle class had increased its spending on outbound travel with the Chinese spending $261 billion traveling abroad in 2016, an increase of 12% from the previous year. This phenomenon had rendered many South Korean businesses particularly reliant on Chinese tourists and hit hard by the sudden drop of business.

This year is the 25th anniversary of the establishment of formal ties between China and South Korea. But in a sign of the tensions between the two countries, there is no plan in place yet to celebrate the occasion. However, analysts have said that the protests might be short-lived and such initiatives could die down quickly as many Chinese people are already finding it difficult to uphold a boycott, given the preponderance of popular Korean goods in Chinese stores.

 

Works Cited

  1. Griffiths, J. (2017, September 07). South Korea expects North to launch ICBM on Saturday, prime minister says. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.cnn.com/2017/09/07/asia/south-korea-thaad-north-korea/index.html
  2. Javier C. HernÁndez, Owen Guo And Ryan Mcmorrow. (2017, March 09). South Korean Stores Feel China’s Wrath as U.S. Missile System Is Deployed. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/09/world/asia/china-lotte-thaad-south-korea.html
  3. Mullany, G. (2017, May 12). Chinese Rappers Take Aim at American Antimissile System in South Korea. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2017/05/12/world/asia/china-south-korea-thaad-rap-video.html?_r=0
  4. Sang-Hun, C. (2016, July 07). South Korea and U.S. Agree to Deploy Missile Defense System. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/08/world/asia/south-korea-and-us-agree-to-deploy-missile-defense-system.html?_r=0
  5. South Korea tourism hit by China ban. (2017, July 11). Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://www.bbc.com/news/business-40565119
  6. South Korean businesses have been suffering since early this year after the country angered the Chinese government with the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system. (n.d.). China can squeeze its neighbors when it wants. Ask South Korea. Retrieved October 17, 2017, from http://money.cnn.com/2017/08/30/news/economy/china-hyundai-south-korea-thaad/index.html