Articles, PSQH January 18, 2018

Gerrymandering Pop Health

by Barry P Chaiken, MD

The 2016 election yielded 13 Republican and five Democratic congressmen representing the state of Pennsylvania. Although Republican congressional candidates won about 50% of the statewide vote, they currently hold 72% of the available House seats. In a country of “one man, one vote,” how were the Republicans able to secure a higher number of elected representatives even though they overall received fewer votes? The answer is gerrymandering, an American practice that has spanned more than two centuries and continues in earnest to this day.

On March 26, 1812, the Boston Gazette wrote about the redrawing of state Senate election districts by then-Governor Eldridge Gerry in an effort to benefit his Democratic-Republican Party colleagues. The word “gerrymander” comes from the pairing of Gerry’s name with the shape of one of the contorted districts north of Boston that resembled a salamander. This gerrymandering of the Massachusetts Senate proved so successful that although the Federalist party won both the election for governor and a majority of the Massachusetts House, they failed to win the Senate, then controlled by the Democratic-Republicans.

The sophisticated analytics that allow for the gerrymandering of election districts also offer a model that can be applied in the delivery of population health services.

Excerpts from Gerrymandering Population Health. PSQH, November/December 2017

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