Districts and Candidates in U.S. House Elections

33 Pages Posted: 11 Apr 2010

See all articles by Eric McGhee

Eric McGhee

Public Policy Institute of California

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Date Written: April 1, 2010

Abstract

Recent research on U.S. House elections focuses on the partisanship of districts as an explanation for weak competition, deemphasizing candidate and campaign variables like incumbency and spending. This literature focuses attention on the marginal effects of important explanatory variables, yet overall competitiveness is also driven by the underlying distributions of those variables. Campaign spending in particular has become strongly bimodal, far outpacing any polarization in district partisanship. This study uses counterfactual analysis to consider changes in both marginal effects and distributions simultaneously. When both are factored in, it becomes clear that candidates and campaigns are more important today, not less, while district partisanship is only modestly more significant. The polarization of districts is better at explaining the decline in competition over time, but this decline itself is quite modest. The variance around the downward trend is more significant, and is explained more readily with campaign dynamics than with district polarization. The drivers of competition in House elections continue to be highly personal, meaning reforms to increase competition should focus more on campaign finance than on ameliorative redistricting.

Keywords: elections, U.S. House, incumbency advantage, partisanship

Suggested Citation

McGhee, Eric, Districts and Candidates in U.S. House Elections (April 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1586993 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1586993

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