Sunday, November 15, 2009

Why Compact, Contiguous Districts are Bad for the Democrats

The abstract from a paper by Chen and Roddin.
When one of the major parties in the United States wins a substantially larger share of the seats than its vote share would seem to warrant, the conventional explanation lies in manipulation of maps by the party that controls the redistricting process. Yet this paper uses a unique data set from Florida to demonstrate a common mechanism through which substantial partisan bias can emerge purely from residential patterns. When partisan preferences are spatially dependent and partisanship is highly correlated with population density, any districting scheme that generates relatively compact, contiguous districts will tend to produce bias against the urban party. In order to demonstrate this empirically, we apply automated districting algorithms driven solely by compactness and contiguity parameters, building winner-take-all districts out of the precinct-level results of the tied Florida presidential election of 2000. The simulation results demonstrate that with 50 percent of the votes statewide, the Republicans can expect to win around 59 percent of the seats without any “intentional” gerrymandering. This is because urban districts tend to be homogeneous and Democratic while suburban and rural districts tend to be moderately Republican. Thus in Florida and other states where Democrats are highly concentrated in cities, the seemingly apolitical practice of requiring compact, contiguous districts will produce systematic pro-Republican electoral bias.
Once you think about it, it's obvious. The Democratic districts will be overwhelmingly Democratic; the Republican districts will be only moderately Republican. So there may be more Democrats overall, but if the Democratic districts are overwhelmingly Democratic and the Republican districts are only slightly more Republican than Democratic, the Republicans will win more districts than their proportion of the population deserves.

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