Date of Final Oral Examination (Defense)
Type of Culminating Activity
Master of Arts in Political Science
Jaclyn Kettler, Ph.D.
Ross Burkhart, Ph.D.
Stephen Utych, Ph.D.
Thanks to the foresight of our Founding Fathers we are required by law to redraw legislative boundaries every ten years, after the decennial census. These boundaries create districts at both the state and federal legislative level, and there are many guidelines which govern how districts can be drawn in order to provide for fair competition and accurate representation. Population distribution is key to how electoral districts are drawn at all levels. In recent decades, increasing concentrated populations of Democrats in urban areas and decreasing population in rural, more Republican areas has made it harder to draw competitive districts at the congressional level. There is evidence to support that this geographic polarization is being driven by citizens themselves, making choices of where to live based upon their lifestyle and ideology. This concept of self-sorting has been termed “unintentional gerrymandering” (Chen and Rodden 2013). This trend of “self-sorting” has been caused by many factors, all of them stemming from a larger movement of generational change. Intentional gerrymandering, that which is done by powerful incumbent legislators, is a known problem in political science. Unintentional gerrymandering, the way that geographic population shifts are affecting legislative and congressional districts in the same way, is a much less developed and affirmed concept. My research question addresses two areas that are missing from the current discussion of political geography and redistricting. The first asks how geographic population distribution (rural vs. urban) affects the amount of wasted votes in an election cycle, specifically looking at Congressional elections. The second is to test whether the efficiency gap is an effective formula to measure how wasted vii votes are affected by population shifts within congressional districts between redistricting cycles.
To do this I examine a sample of urban and rural congressional districts to compare the number of wasted votes from the 2012 election cycle (which took place after 2010 redistricting was in effect) to the 2018 election cycle (which is the last available election data before 2020 redistricting will begin).
I find that the number of wasted votes in rural districts in 2012 is significant and decreases slightly when looking at the 2018 election results. The effect was smaller and not statistically significant in urban districts when using the 2012 data, but the results in 2018 were much more significant. Supportive of the concept of unintentional gerrymandering, the population shifts from 2012 to 2018 resulted in more wasted votes in the districts which I measured.
Sharp, Hannah, "The Unintentional Gerrymandering of America: How Population Shifts in Congressional Districts Contribute to the Wasting of Votes, as Measured by the Efficiency Gap" (2020). Boise State University Theses and Dissertations. 1641.