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Redistricting and Polarization: Who Draws the Lines in California?


  • Corbett A. Grainger


In the United States, 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. Previous attempts to test for a relationship between redistricting and polarization have generally relied on cross-state comparisons of redistricting methods and examinations of behavior in the House of Representatives. In this paper, I exploit the alternation between legislatively drawn and panel-drawn districts in California 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Corbett A. Grainger, 2010. "Redistricting and Polarization: Who Draws the Lines in California?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 53(3), pages 545-567.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlawec:doi:10.1086/605724
    DOI: 10.1086/605724

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Powell, James L, 1986. "Symmetrically Trimmed Least Squares Estimation for Tobit Models," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 54(6), pages 1435-1460, November.
    2. Stephen Coate & Brian Knight, 2007. "Socially Optimal Districting: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1409-1471.
    3. Reza Baqir, 2002. "Districting and Government Overspending," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 110(6), pages 1318-1354, December.
    4. Katerina Sherstyuk, 1998. "How to gerrymander: A formal analysis," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 95(1), pages 27-49, April.
    5. Elisabeth R. Gerber & Jeffrey B. Lewis, 2004. "Beyond the Median: Voter Preferences, District Heterogeneity, and Political Representation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 112(6), pages 1364-1383, December.
    6. Crain, W Mark, 1999. "Districts, Diversity, and Fiscal Biases: Evidence from the American States," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(2), pages 675-698, October.
    7. John N. Friedman & Richard T. Holden, 2008. "Optimal Gerrymandering: Sometimes Pack, but Never Crack," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 113-144, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Reed & Patrick O’Reilly & Joshua Hall, 2019. "The Economics and Politics of Carbon Taxes and Regulations: Evidence from Voting on Washington State’s Initiative 732," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 11(13), pages 1-12, July.
    2. Garrow, Eve E. & Danziger, Sandra K. & Tillotson, Amanda R., 2015. "Shifting sands that threaten policy advocacy for vulnerable children and youth: A case study," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 53(C), pages 211-218.
    3. Benjamin Hansen & Keaton Miller & Caroline Weber, 2017. "Federalism, Partial Prohibition, and Cross-Border Sales: Evidence from Recreational Marijuana," NBER Working Papers 23762, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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