Professor Questions Traditional Election Assumptions

UT Dallas Political Scientist Goes Against the Grain with New Book

March 18, 2008

For the first time in decades, the nation is witnessing an intensively competitive race for the Democratic nomination for president.

Thomas Brunell’s book is published by Routledge.

Conventional wisdom holds that competitive elections are good for the electorate because they attract more people to the polls and keep elected officials honest by making them more closely follow the wishes of the electorate. But is competition always a good thing for voters?

Given a choice, American voters would rather win than compete, according to Thomas Brunell, an associate professor in the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences at The University of Texas at Dallas, whose new book argues for less competition in general elections, not more.

To stem the tide of voter apathy and restore more faith in government, Brunell proposes using the redistricting process to create whole election districts of like-minded partisans to maximize the number of satisfied voters.

In his new book, Redistricting and Representation: Why Competitive Elections are Bad for America, (2008, Routledge), he says rather than draw districts 50-50, draw them so that they are overwhelmingly of one party or the other. Such a non-competitive system, would result in more competitive primary elections, better representation for all and less gerrymandering, the process in which the party in power draws district lines in order to dilute votes from the other party. The book is available at his publisher's Web site.

“The most important correlation between voting and positive attitudes toward government is whether voters cast their ballot for the winning candidate in the last election,” says Brunell. “The degree of competitiveness of that election is unimportant.”

So ingrained is the belief that competition is good for the electorate, that other scholars have called his ideas “cockamamie” and “dangerous.” One prominent academic journal even rejected a serious paper of his, calling it satire worthy of Jonathan Swift (he did get the paper published in another journal).

Many pundits and public interest groups such as Common Cause advocate for more competition in general elections. These groups argue that redistricting, as it stands now, has created a non-competitive system already, which only rewards incumbents. In 2004, 98 percent of incumbents running for the House won re-election.

Nonetheless Brunell believes redistricting for more competition is not the answer. Instead reform should start by asking how satisfied voters are with the outcome of their votes.

Brunell has testified as an expert witness in redistricting trials in state and federal courts. At UT Dallas, he teaches courses on Congress, political parties, and campaigns and elections. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Irvine.

Media Contacts: Meredith Dickenson, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]
and Audrey Glickert, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]

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Dr. Thomas Brunell
Thomas Brunell argues for less competition in general elections, not more.

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January 18, 2020