Redistricting and Polarization: Who Draws the Lines in California?
Corbett A. Grainger
University of Wisconsin - Madison
July, 24 2009
Journal of Law and Economics, Vol. 53, 2010
In the U.S., the process of drawing election districts is left to individual states, and critics of legislative redistricting often argue for independent panels to take control of the process. A common claim is that legislative redistricting has been a major contributor to polarization in the American political system; however, there have been few tests of this hypothesis. Previous attempts to test for a relationship between redistricting and polarization have generally relied on cross-state comparisons in redistricting methods and examining behavior in the House of Representatives. In this paper, I exploit the fact that the redistricting process in California has alternated between legislatively-drawn and panel-drawn districts since the mid-1960s. Using data at the state legislature level, I find evidence that legislatively-drawn districts have been, on average, less competitive than panel-drawn districts. Moreover, as districts become "safer" legislators tend to take more extreme voting positions. Finally, I find evidence that legislative redistricting (compared with panel-drawn redistricting) is associated with increased polarization.
Keywords: redistricting, polarization, gerrymandering, legislative behavior, political economy of legislative processes
JEL Classification: D70, D72, D79
Date posted: July 24, 2009