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Gerrymandering Incumbency: Does Non-Partisan Redistricting Increase Electoral Competition?

22 Pages Posted: 2 May 2017  

John A. Henderson

Yale University, Department of Political Science

Brian T Hamel

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Department of Political Science, Students

Aaron Goldzimer

Yale Law School

Date Written: May 1, 2017

Abstract

Many political advocacy groups, journalists, and scholars view decennial redistricting as a major force in weakening the representational link between voters and officeholders by helping insulate legislative incumbents from electoral defeat. Motivated by this concern, reformers in a number of states have proposed giving control over redistricting to 'politically-neutral' independent commissions. Freed from partisan and electoral pressures, independent redistrictors would be expected to draw districts without giving favor to parties or their incumbents. In this study, we analyze two novel datasets of alternative redistricting plans, to evaluate whether maps drawn by independent commissions are more electorally competitive than those produced by party-controlled legislatures, compared to the proposals that could have been adopted. We find that the redistricting process on the margin, helps sustain the electoral security of incumbents. Yet, counter to reformers' expectations, we find that independent redistrictors produce virtually the same degree of insulation as plans devised in legislatures or by politician commissions. Overall, our results suggest caution in overhauling state redistricting institutions to increase electoral competition: independent commissions may not be as politically-neutral as theorized.

Keywords: redistricting, independent commissions, elections, gerrymandering, simulations

Suggested Citation

Henderson, John A. and Hamel, Brian T and Goldzimer, Aaron, Gerrymandering Incumbency: Does Non-Partisan Redistricting Increase Electoral Competition? (May 1, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2961564

John Henderson (Contact Author)

Yale University, Department of Political Science ( email )

New Haven, CT 06520
United States

Brian Hamel

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Department of Political Science, Students ( email )

Los Angeles, CA
United States

Aaron Goldzimer

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States

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