Is big data destroying the U.S. political system?
Chuck Todd, NBC News political director and moderator of “Meet the Press,” says yes.
Todd laid out his case during a panel discussion at South by Southwest alongside Cornell Belcher, a long-time democratic pollster who worked on both of President Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns, and Sara Fagen, a former political director for President George W. Bush.
Todd said that while big data is all the rage in every segment of American life, whether you’re a sports fan, or in medicine or building a brand, he contends political strategists "are misusing it.”
“And the misuse has accelerated the polarization,” Todd said.
It starts with redistricting, he said. By using data to go block by block and move votes into districts and create safe districts, it eliminates swing districts. “When you don’t have any swing districts then you no longer have lawmakers that feel like they have to persuade voters, they only have to win like-minded voters,” Todd said.
The “original sin” of big data, he said, is mapping technology. “Campaigns have applied it so you don’t have to get elected by persuading, you get elected by like-minded people, which means you don’t have to compromise.”
The fix, he said, needs to start with the way electoral districts are created.
“If you draw more competitive boundaries starting at the state legislative level, you’ll get politicians that get elected assuming they have to persuade. And if you win by persuasion, you are more likely to compromise and you’re more likely go govern,” he said.
Todd pointed out that in 2000, there were 86 split districts, while today there are just 35 split districts. “An ideological overlap has almost ceased to exist,” he said. “And you wonder why there is no compromise on Capitol Hill.”
How do you take partisanship out of redistricting? “I think the best state that does it is Iowa. They actually factor in competitiveness. Essentially every district in Iowa, even in the worst partisan days, there is some vulnerability there. It means you’re accountable.”
Belcher said the only way to change the system is “you have to actually rise up. Politicians don’t do anything unless basically there’s a threat. It should really be a grassroots movement. Organize around it. It is ground zero to your democracy. We need more organizing and more paying attention to redistricting.”
Todd then threw out an idea: “What if you said no district can be more than 58 percent of one party?”
Fagen said big data could be used to make that happen. “A computer program could do this in about two hours,” she said. “That would be a highly efficient way to do it.”
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