by Karl Kurtz
Six years ago in The Thicket, North Carolina's Gerry Cohen wrote a guest post, "Redistricting is Not the Cause of Non-Competitive Districts" based on academic research. I just now got around to reading another article on the same subject published early this year with an intriguing title: "The Gerrymanderers Are Coming! Legislative Redistricting Won’t Affect Competition or Polarization Much, No Matter Who Does It."
The abstract of the article by political scientists Seth E. Masket (University of Denver), Jonathan Winburn (University of Mississippi) and Gerald C. Wright (University of Indiana) provides a succinct summary:
Redistricting received substantial attention in the popular media in 2011, as states redrew state legislative and congressional district boundaries. Many reformers continue to argue for a de-politicization of the redistricting process, claiming that partisan redistricting is responsible for declining electoral competition and increasing legislative polarization. Our analysis of evidence from state legislatures during the last decade suggests that the effects of partisan redistricting on competition and polarization are small,
considerably more nuanced than reformers would suggest, and overwhelmed by other aspects of the political environment.
The article is relatively short and highly accessible to practitioners. Here's a sample figure showing the percentage of competitive state legislative seats (victory margin of 10 percent or less) after the 2000 redistricting cycle:
Figure 1 shows mean number of contested competitive seats by redistricting control throughout the decade. Notably, competitive rates look similar across redistricting methods, with no plan producing more than 30% competitive seats during the decade. Before redistricting, the 2000 elections showed almost identical rates of competition across the five redistricting categories.The 2002 election cycle provided slight separation as bipartisan commissions,and unified legislatures produced the highest rates of competitive races.The 2004 elections showed the most variability between methods as divided legislatures had the highest level of competitive races (28%) compared to only 10% competitive races for partisan commission plans. However,for 2006 and 2008, competition in divided legislative plans fell to levels similar to those of 2000 and 2002.
It's good academic work that is highly relevant to legislators, legislative staff and would-be reformers.