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Fiscal cliff deal difficult because of gerrymandering

Let me finish tonight with this.

Let me finish tonight with this.

Why was it so difficult to avoid the fiscal cliff? Especially where, in the end, we didn't even get a grand bargain. We got a quick fix.

That's a question I'm sure voters who've been clamoring for compromise would like answered.

Nate Silver had a partial response in a recent FiveThirtyEight blog post: Silver noted that where in 1992, there were 103 members of the House who were elected from what might be regarded as swing districts, which he identified as those where the margin in the presidential vote was within 5 percentage point.

But today, Silver calculates, that number is just 35.

Think about that. It means 400 of 435 races are virtually pre-determined by party affiliation. And as competitive districts have diminished, landslide districts—where the presidential margin deviated by at least 20 points from the national result—have roughly doubled in the same period.

The point is that members of Congress, who are elected in hyperpartisan districts, have no incentive to compromise.

I think that's a true explanation as far as it goes. Gerrymandering has become a big problem.

And add in closed primaries, nominating contests open to only party members where the most reliable voters are idealogues. Who do they nominate? Ideologically driven candidates, who then are assured election in those non-competitive districts.

The polarized media is also a factor insofar as issues are presented in black and white terms and offered in short sound bytes.

And don't forget about the role of money. Gone are the days when members truly live in Washington, move their families with them, and socialize with one another. Nowadays, they are essentially at work Tuesday through Thursday with lots of recesses. The rest of the time they're raising money to spend in re-election campaigns despite the near certainly that they will be re-elected.

No one- stop solution seems evident. Instead, each of these elements of the problem requires its own response. But don't wait for our politicians to provide any answers, because one thing our dysfunctional systems excels at is rewarding those who are dependent upon it.