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Socially Optimal Districting

  • Stephen Coate
  • Brian Knight

This paper provides a welfare economic analysis of the problem of districting. In the context of a simple micro-founded model intended to capture the salient features of U.S. politics, it studies how a social planner should allocate citizens of different ideologies across districts to maximize aggregate utility. In the model, districting determines the equilibrium seat-vote curve which is the relationship between the aggregate vote share of the political parties and their share of seats in the legislature. To understand optimal districting, the paper first characterizes the optimal seat-vote curve which describes the ideal relationship between votes and seats. It then shows that under rather weak conditions the optimal seat-vote curve is implementable in the sense that there exist districtings which make the equilibrium seat-vote curve equal to the optimal seat-vote curve. The nature of these optimal districtings is described. Finally, the paper provides a full characterization of the constrained optimal seat-vote curve and the districtings that underlie it when the optimal seat-vote curve is not achievable.

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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w11462.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11462.

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Date of creation: Jul 2005
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Publication status: published as Coate, Stephen and Brian Knight. “Socially Optimal Districting: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration” Quarterly Journal of Economics 122, 4 (November 2007): 1409-1471.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11462
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  1. Lockwood, Ben, 1998. "Distributive Politics and the Costs of Centralization," CEPR Discussion Papers 2046, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Prat, A., 1997. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Discussion Paper 1997-118, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Timothy Besley & Anne Case, 2003. "Political Institutions and Policy Choices: Evidence from the United States," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(1), pages 7-73, March.
  4. Persson, Torsten & Roland , Gérard & Tabellini, Guido, 1997. "Comparative Politics and Public Finance," Seminar Papers 633, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  5. Eric Maskin, 2003. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," Theory workshop papers 505798000000000076, UCLA Department of Economics.
  6. Alessro Lizzeri & Nicola Persico, . "The Provision of Public Goods Under Alternative Electoral Incentives," Penn CARESS Working Papers b96440ba0bfa06ca550ac40aa, Penn Economics Department.
  7. Roger B. Myerson, 1998. "Theoretical Comparisons of Electoral Systems," Discussion Papers 1261, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  8. 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.
  9. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2004. "Constitutions and Economic Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 75-98, Winter.
  10. Arianna Degan & Antonio Merlo, 2004. "Do Citizens Vote Sincerely (If They Vote at All)? Theory and Evidence from U. S. National Elections," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-014, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  11. Sherstyuk, K., 1995. "How to Gerrymander: A Formal Analysis," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 469, The University of Melbourne.
  12. Gilligan, Thomas W & Matsusaka, John G, 1999. " Structural Constraints on Partisan Bias under the Efficient Gerrymander," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 100(1-2), pages 65-84, July.
  13. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Political Competition with Campaign Contributions and Informative Advertising," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 772-804, 09.
  14. Timothy Besley & Ian Preston, 2006. "Electoral Bias and Policy Choice:Theory and Evidence," STICERD - Political Economy and Public Policy Paper Series 17, Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE.
  15. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  16. 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.
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