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Socially Optimal Districting: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration

  • Stephen Coate

    (Cornell University)

  • Brian Knight

    (Brown University)

This paper investigates the problem of optimal districting in the context of a simple model of legislative elections. In the model, districting matters because it determines the seat-vote curve, which describes the relationship between seats and votes. The paper first characterizes the optimal seat-vote curve and shows that, under a weak condition, there exist districtings that generate this ideal relationship. The paper then develops an empirical methodology for computing seat-vote curves and measuring the welfare gains from implementing optimal districting. This is applied to analyze the districting plans used to elect U.S. state legislators during the 1990s. (c) 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology..

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File URL: http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/qjec.2007.122.4.1409
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Article provided by MIT Press in its journal Quarterly Journal of Economics.

Volume (Year): 122 (2007)
Issue (Month): 4 (November)
Pages: 1409-1471

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Handle: RePEc:tpr:qjecon:v:122:y:2007:i:4:p:1409-1471
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  1. Katerina Sherstyuk, 1998. "How to gerrymander: A formal analysis," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 95(1), pages 27-49, April.
  2. Tim Besley & Ian Preston, 2006. "Electoral bias and policy choice: theory and evidence," IFS Working Papers W06/03, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
  3. Persson, Torsten & Roland, Gérard & Tabellini, Guido, 1997. "Comparative Politics and Public Finance," CEPR Discussion Papers 1737, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Besley, Timothy J. & Case, Anne, 2002. "Political Institutions and Policy Choices: Evidence from the United States," CEPR Discussion Papers 3498, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Osborne, Martin J & Slivinski, Al, 1996. "A Model of Political Competition with Citizen-Candidates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(1), pages 65-96, February.
  6. John N. Friedman & Richard T. Holden, 2008. "Optimal Gerrymandering: Sometimes Pack, but Never Crack," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 113-44, March.
  7. Degan, Arianna & Merlo, Antonio, 2007. "Do Voters Vote Sincerely?," CEPR Discussion Papers 6165, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. A. Lizzeri & Persico N., 1999. "Provision of Public Goods Under Alternative Electral Incentives," Princeton Economic Theory Papers 99f4, Economics Department, Princeton University.
  9. Prat, Andrea, 1999. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," CEPR Discussion Papers 2152, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  10. Stephen Coate & Brian Knight, 2005. "Socially Optimal Districting," NBER Working Papers 11462, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Ben Lockwood, 2002. "Distributive Politics and the Costs of Centralization," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 69(2), pages 313-337.
  12. Thomas Gilligan & John Matsusaka, 2006. "Public choice principles of redistricting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 129(3), pages 381-398, December.
  13. Roger B. Myerson, 1998. "Theoretical Comparisons of Electoral Systems," Discussion Papers 1261, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  14. Matsusaka, John G & McCarty, Nolan M, 2001. "Political Resource Allocation: Benefits and Costs of Voter Initiatives," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 17(2), pages 413-48, October.
  15. David S. Lee & Enrico Moretti & Matthew J. Butler, 2004. "Do Voters Affect Or Elect Policies? Evidence from the U. S. House," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(3), pages 807-859, August.
  16. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  17. Fryer, Roland Gerhard & Holden, Richard, 2011. "Measuring the Compactness of Political Districting Plans," Scholarly Articles 13456931, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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