Going into this project, I learned an important lesson on the values of checking the literature before coming up with a thesis. Because it often doesn’t make the news, I assumed the the intensity of study on the effects of redistricting has been quite low. This is not at all the case; a large number of papers have come to different conclusions on the influence that the lines between districts have.
A major part of my work was planned to be an examination of redistricting just within New York State so that I could do a case study to highlight some of the obvious issues in my own state’s congressional districts. The problem here has been timing: while the state government should have released the new map for 2012-2022 earlier in the year, it’s been tied up in competing proposals and litigation. Hopefully that will be released later this week and then it’ll be full speed on this project.
The most interesting result that I’ve seen this far has been through my quantitative analysis of the effect of redistricting on the polarization of Congress. Working with a data set that provides the “DWNominate” score as a rating of partisanship, I was able to run a regression that showed that while it doesn’t make a statistically significant difference in partisanship whether a state can gerrymander its boundaries, the time elapsed since the last cycle of redistricting is correlated with a decline in the difference between the two parties. (I also found that the parties become more polarized during a Presidential election) In other words, the distance between Democrats and Republicans rises immediately following the drawing of new lines and then fades until the next cycle. The effect of this is small but significant.