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Redistricting and Polarization: Who Draws the Lines in California?

Corbett Grainger

Journal of Law and Economics, 2010, vol. 53, issue 3, 545 - 567

Abstract: 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.

Date: 2010
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