Partisan Problems: How Partisan Redistricting Methods Lead to Non-Competitive Elections

Open Access
Carper, Joseph Alan
Area of Honors:
Political Science
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Suzanna Linn, Thesis Supervisor
  • Gretchen Casper, Honors Advisor
  • Congress
  • Elections
  • American
  • Politics
  • Redistricting
  • Gerrymandering
Competitive elections are an intrinsic good in democratic electoral systems. Over the past few decades a debate has arisen as to the level of effect that redistricting (or “gerrymandering”) has had on the level of competition in American congressional elections. Supporters of reform argue that the most-commonly used methods of redistricting suppress voter turnout and drive competition levels down. Many skeptics in the field dispute this notion and say that there is little to no evidence to suggest that the redistricting process has any sort of effect on competition levels. This study seeks to explore this debate with election data from 1972 – 2014. My evidence suggests that the partisan or nonpartisan nature of bodies responsible for redistricting affects the levels of competition in congressional districts. Evidence suggests that districts drawn by partisan bodies are in general much less competitive than districts drawn by non-partisan bodies. I examine election data from nearly all 435 House of Representatives elections each year from 1972-2014, as well as an in depth analysis of competition in congressional districts in the state of Arizona to draw this conclusion. Further, based on the evidence provided here, it seems that it is in the best interest of the country to review redistricting methods to ensure that partisan actors are not taking advantage of the redistricting process to diminish the levels of competition in American congressional elections.