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Rethinking Redistricting: How Drawing Uncompetitive Districts Eliminates Gerrymanders, Enhances Representation, and Improves Attitudes toward Congress

  • Thomas L. Brunell (a1)

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In every contested election there are inevitably winners and losers, both among the candidates and among the voters. Some candidates will take their seats as elected officials, and others will not. Some voters will be happy with the outcome, others will not. Here I seek to better understand the relationship between whether a voter casts a ballot for the winning candidate in U.S. House elections and that voter's evaluations of her representative. I build on a burgeoning literature on the relationship between voters and their elected governments to derive and test a theory about this connection. The data will show that voters whose preferred candidate wins a seat in the House of Representatives are systematically happier with their representative than those voters whom did not vote for the winning candidate. While this finding is not especially groundbreaking, the implications for the way in which we draw congressional and state legislative district lines are quite provocative. Specifically, since district lines in the House are necessarily an artificial construct, I argue that map makers ought to “pack” districts with as many like-minded partisans as possible. Trying to draw “competitive districts” effectively cracks ideologically congruent voters into separate districts, which has the effect of increasing the absolute number of voters who will be unhappy with the outcome and dissatisfied with their representative. I discuss the benefits of fundamentally rethinking the way in which we draw congressional and state legislative districts, as well as address likely concerns that might be raised about drawing districts this way.I would like to thank Jim Adams, Valerie Brunell, Bruce Cain, Geoff Evans, Bill Koetzle, Bernie Grofman, Sam Hirsch, Michael D. McDonald, Iain McLean, Sam Merrill, Glenn Phelps, David Rueda, Alec Stone Sweet, Chris Wlezian, and the Politics Group at Nuffield College for their comments.

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Rethinking Redistricting: How Drawing Uncompetitive Districts Eliminates Gerrymanders, Enhances Representation, and Improves Attitudes toward Congress

  • Thomas L. Brunell (a1)

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