Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Partisan Consequences of the Post-1990 Redistricting for the U.S. House of Representatives

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Partisan Consequences of the Post-1990 Redistricting for the U.S. House of Representatives

Article excerpt

Following each recent round of redistricting, scholars have tried to determine whether that round worked to one party's advantage and whether control of the redistricting process by members of one party led to gerrymandering. They have reached mixed conclusions. Here, we examine the partisan consequences of the post-1990 redistricting for the U.S. House of Representatives. We create two sets of projections of partisan support levels for the 1990 and 1992 districts based on district-level 1988 presidential election data. One set of projections assumes an incumbency advantage, and one set assumes the hypothetical situation of all open seats, i.e., no incumbency advantage. We ask whether either party benefited and whether gerrymandering occurred. When we take incumbency into account, we find that our projections show that the two parties came out just about even in redistricting, with an increase in the number of districts evenly split between them. However, when we assume all open seats, our projections show an increase of 21 Republican districts, a decrease of 3 Democratic districts, and a decrease of 17 evenly split districts. We conclude that the Republican party gained from redistricting and that incumbency and other short-term factors obscure changes in :he underlying partisan support in districts. In a state-level analysis of redistricting outcomes, we find no evidence that parties succeeded in using control of state government to gain partisan advantage through redistricting.

Conventional political wisdom holds that parties use redistricting to gain electoral advantage. After redistricting, political observers point out particular candidates affected by gerrymandering. The academic literature, however, does not consistently support the view that parties and incumbents can improve their positions through gerrymandering or the view that redistricting affects election outcomes (for exhaustive reviews, see Butler and Cain 1992; Gelman and King 1994). Some studies conclude that parties and incumbents are highly effective at gerrymandering (Tufte 1973; Gopoian and West 1984; Abramowitz 1983; Wyrick 1991; Squire 1995). Other studies conclude that redistricting has little political impact despite the efforts that go into it (Ferejohn 1977; Squire 1985; Campagna 1991; Niemi and Jackman 1991; Niemi and Abramowitz 1994). Other studies discuss the circumstances in which gerrymandering can occur (Cain 1985). One way to reconcile the various findings is to conclude that gerrymandering may occur in particular states but have little net impact nationally (Butler and Cain 1992). Similarly, Gelman and King (1994) maintain that partisan gerrymandering has little impact on the partisan composition of state legislatures but that a party does better under its own redistricting plan than it does under a plan produced by the opposing party

We find that the conflicting views on partisan advantage and gerrymandering in redistricting stem from scholars addressing different questions using different methodologies and data. Some scholars have evaluated the impact of redistricting by looking at actual House election results (Squire 1985 and 1995; Abramowitz 1983; Niemi and Winsky 1992; Niemi and Abramowitz 1994). These scholars conclude that a party gained an advantage if it won in more districts in the first election after redistricting than in the previous election. If seat gains can be linked to partisan control of a state government, they conclude that gerrymandering took place. In contrast, other scholars have evaluated the impact of redistricting by looking at the underlying patterns of partisan support as measured by prior presidential elections results (Glazer, Grofman, and Robbins 1986; Gopoian and West 1984).

In this confusing situation, we ask two simple questions: "Did either party clearly benefit from the post-1990 redistricting of the U.S. House of Representatives?" and "Does single party control of the redistricting process lead to partisan advantage in House districts? …

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