Do competitive House seats make for ideologues?

James Q. Wilson says yes:

It has been suggested that congressional polarization is exacerbated by new districting arrangements that make each House seat safe for either a Democratic or a Republican incumbent. If only these seats were truly competitive, it is said, more centrist legislators would be elected. That seems plausible, but David C. King of Harvard has shown that it is wrong: in the House, the more competitive the district, the more extreme the views of the winner. This odd finding is apparently the consequence of a nomination process dominated by party activists. In primary races, where turnout is low (and seems to be getting lower), the ideologically motivated tend to exercise a preponderance of influence.

Thanks to Eric Rasmusen for the pointer, comments are open.  The implication, of course, is that electoral competition is overrated.  If we think of more moderate outcomes as better on average (debatable, admittedly), we can view the problem of politics in a new way.  Do aggregation mechanisms produce better decisions when individuals feel that less is on the line?  Is this the opposite of everything we learned from Anthony Downs?


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