From the Constituent’s Eye

Published date01 March 2017
Date01 March 2017
Subject MatterArticles
/tmp/tmp-18wAm6SX501pdj/input 671829PRQXXX10.1177/1065912916671829Political Research QuarterlyWinburn et al.
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(1) 32 –41
From the Constituent’s Eye:
© 2016 University of Utah
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Experimental Evidence on the District
DOI: 10.1177/1065912916671829
Selection Preferences of Individuals
Jonathan Winburn1, Michael Henderson2,
and Conor M. Dowling1
States have increasingly taken the process of redistricting out of the hands of elected legislators and placed it with
the public. The shift is in part driven by a concern that legislators are motivated to partition districts to advantage
their own and their political party’s electoral prospects, whereas citizens are not. We know little, however, about
the preferences of the public when it comes to redistricting. One party-based argument is that individuals should
prefer to share a district with as many like-minded partisans as possible to maximize their legislative representation,
whereas other arguments suggest that nonpartisan factors, such as sharing a district with their community, may be
more important. Using a novel experimental design, we find that for most participants, the draw to share a district
with copartisans is stronger than a preference for preserving a community (county) within the district even when
participants are specifically instructed to attend to local jurisdictional boundaries.
redistricting, experiment, mass opinion, representation, communities of interest
In recent decades, states have increasingly taken the pro-
Center Survey showed that half of registered voters did
cess of redistricting—that is, the drawing of congressio-
not know who was in charge of drawing district lines and
nal and legislative district boundaries, which follows the
knew nothing at all about the debates over how to draw
decennial U.S. Census—out of the hands of elected legis-
boundaries. In addition, a full 70 percent had no opinion
lators (Altman and McDonald 2011; see also Altman
about the process used in their state.2 No doubt, part of
et al. 2010). In 2010, California implemented a citizen
this is by design as political elites have traditionally com-
commission to handle redistricting following the move of
pleted the process behind closed doors away from public
Arizona to an independent-based commission. That same
view as part of a “largely invisible matrix of election
year, Florida, via constitutional amendment, banned
practices that influences our lives” (Overton 2006, 27).
political gerrymandering by not allowing the use of parti-
Although interested elites behave as if redistricting is a
san or incumbency information during the redistricting
means to their electoral fortunes, the public generally
process. Other states, such as Texas, Georgia, and
ignore this process and have little knowledge of both the
Virginia, have discussed ways to increase transparency
outcomes generated by and ramifications associated with
and public involvement to combat political and partisan
manipulation of congressional and legislative districts.
This lack of public awareness raises concerns about
The shift is in part driven by a concern that legislators are
whether elite-drawn districts reflect the same preferences
motivated to draw districts that advantage their own and
citizens would use if they could design their own district
their political party’s electoral prospects—a motivation
boundaries. Although there is much debate among
that citizens ostensibly do not share.1
These policies raise a compelling theoretical question
about the extent to which elected leaders have different
University of Mississippi, University, USA
2Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, USA
considerations about the redistricting process than citi-
zens. Historically, redistricting has been an elite game.
Corresponding Author:
Despite the ramifications for the public, citizen aware-
Michael Henderson, Manship School Research Facility, Manship School
of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
ness and knowledge of the process that determines their
70803, USA.
electoral boundaries are low. For example, a 2006 Pew

Winburn et al.
observers as to what the underlying goals in the redistrict-
where their party holds the majority over districts that
ing process should be (and about the best method for
recognize local jurisdictional boundaries.
achieving those goals), the preferences of the elected offi-
cials who draw the lines are largely clear: maximizing
Redistricting Principles and Goals
partisan seat shares and/or incumbent protection (Born
1985; Cox and Katz 2002). In the eyes of many, the ger-
At its most basic level, the constitutional purpose of
rymandering that follows nefariously plays to the advan-
redistricting is straightforward and generally noncontro-
tage of elites who control the process and the disadvantage
versial—to create electoral districts of equal population
of the citizenry. An implicit assumption of reform move-
size for selecting representatives. In a series of cases from
ments designed to give more power to the public in the
the reapportionment revolution of the 1960s, the Supreme
redistricting process is that the public would make differ-
Court established that the Equal Protection Clause of the
ent decisions than elites if it had the opportunity to draw
U.S. Constitution requires electoral districts to contain
districts (Altman and McDonald 2011; Lowenstein and
equal population sizes in Congressional districts and
Steinberg 1985). Altman and McDonald’s (2011, 2012,
roughly equally populated districts in (state) legislative
2013, 2015) work in this area, for example, along with
redistricting. On its own, however, the equal population
their analysis of plans in several states, including Virginia
criterion allows tremendous latitude in the drawing of
and Florida, show that citizen-submitted plans often dif-
district boundaries because there are many ways a legis-
fer from legislative plans on important dimensions such
lature or other body can draft maps satisfying this
as partisan competitiveness and respect for county requirement.
This latitude opens the door for drafting district bound-
In this paper, we use an experimental design to exam-
aries in accord with other criteria while still meeting the
ine citizen preferences when given two relevant consider-
equal population criterion. The attention legislatures and
ations for selecting their preferred district configuration.
other bodies charged with redistricting give to political
Specifically, we examine a traditional redistricting prin-
considerations such as incumbency protection and parti-
ciple of protecting political subdivisions (counties in our
san advantage is perhaps most widely recognized (Miller
experiments), along with the partisan makeup of the dis-
2013). Yet, over the years, a set of important criteria, con-
tricts.3 The results of two experiments indicate that use of
ventionally known as traditional redistricting principles,
county integrity as a criterion for selecting a preferred
has emerged to guide decision making in accord with
district configuration fades when people have access to
various understandings of fairness (see Levitt 2010 for an
partisan information, even when they are explicitly
overview of these principles). Many of these principles
reminded to preserve geographical boundaries to the
are explicitly geographic, such as compactness, contigu-
extent possible.
ity, and preservation of local political subdivisions or
These experimental results offer an important contri-
communities of interest.4
bution for understanding the views of citizens toward
Shared geography provides a goal of representation
redistricting. As more states move toward greater inclu-
based on the commonality of where people live rather
sion of citizens in the process, from citizen-led commis-
than overt political concepts. The potential for positive
sions to public hearings and citizen submission of plans,
representational gains from this shared geography is a
we know very little about the outcomes citizens would
driving factor for pushing these geographic principles in
actually prefer. This study takes a step in that direction by
the redistricting process (Bowen 2014; Butler and Cain
examining how one important consideration, whether to
1992; Engstrom 2005). Furthermore, geographic bound-
split a community of interest, fares when partisan consid-
aries are important because they structure the laws and
erations are brought to bear on decisions about district
customs of an area that can, both directly and indirectly,
boundaries. The redistricting process is complex and
alter the activity and behavior of the individuals living
multifaceted, and this study examines just two specific
within those borders (Elazar 1994; Gimpel and
(but important) considerations for drawing districts and
Schuknecht 2004). For example, jurisdictional boundar-
does not speak to preferences about the overall map out-
ies from state lines to school districts directly influence
lining multiple districts or to perceptions of procedural
the public goods and services provided to individuals and
fairness. Nevertheless, our results suggest that...

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