Nolan McCarty, acting dean of the Woodrow Wilson School

Thu, 02/28/2008
12:30 - 1 PM, by invitation only

This week, we're having Nolan McCarty, acting dean of the Woodrow Wilson School, for LAPA lunch on Thursday. In addition to having formidable administrative skills, Nolan is also an expert in American politics - particularly focusing on partisanship and polarization.

Nolan McCarty is associate dean at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. His research interests include U.S. politics, democratic political institutions, and political game theory. He is the recipient of the Robert Eckles Swain National Fellowship from the Hoover Institution and the John M. Olin Fellowship in Political Economy. He has recently completed two books: Political Game Theory (2006, Cambridge University Press with Adam Meirowitz) and Polarized America: The Dance of Ideology and Unequal Riches (2006, MIT Press with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal). Other recent publications include The Realignment of National Politics and the Income Distribution (1997 with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal), "Bureaucratic Capacity, Delegation, and Political Reform" (2004 with John Huber) in the American Political Science Review, "The Appointments Dilemma" (2004) in the American Journal of Political Science, "Political Resource Allocation: The Benefits and Costs of Voter Initiatives" (2001 with John G. Matsusaka) in the Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, "The Hunt for Party Discipline" (2001 with Keith Poole and Howard Rosenthal) in the American Political Science Review, "Cabinet Decision Rules and Political Uncertainty in Parliamentary Bargaining" (2001 with John Huber) in the American Political Science Review, and "The Politics of Blame: Bargaining before an Audience," (2000 with Timothy Groseclose) in the American Journal of Political Science. McCarty was the program co-chair of the 2005 Midwest Political Association Meetings and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences during academic 2004-05 year.


Both pundits and scholars have blamed increasing levels of partisan conflict and polarization in Congress on the effects of partisan gerrymandering. We assess whether there is a strong causal relationship between congressional districting and polarization. We find very little evidence for such a link. First, we show that congressional polarization is primarily a function of the differences in how Democrats and Republicans represent the same districts rather than a function of which districts each party represents or the distribution of constituency preferences. Second, we conduct simulations to gauge the level of polarization under various “neutral” districting procedures. We find that the actual levels of polarization are not much higher than those produced by the simulations. We do find that gerrymandering has increased the Republican seat share in the House; this increase is not an important source of polarization.