Partisanship, Public Opinion, and Redistricting

Fougere, Joshua; Ansolabehere, Stephen; Persily, Nathaniel A.

When the Supreme Court first entered the political thicket with the "one person, one vote" cases of the 1960s, contemporaneous polls showed the Court to be on the right side of public opinion. In 1966, 76% of Americans called the Supreme Court decision "rul[ing] all Congressional Districts had to have an equal number of people in them so each person's vote would count equally" "right" (Louis Harris and Associates Poll, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research). Few, if any, innovations from the Warren Court years met with such deep approval by the public or have had comparable staying power. Indeed, majorities continue to support redistricting based on population equality (see Ansolabehere and Persily 2009). Beyond the easy-to-grasp concept of "one person, one vote," however, the public has little knowledge or opinion concerning the redistricting process. Polling on redistricting has been done sporadically and locally. As a consequence, only a few published articles attempt to describe or account for public attitudes concerning the complicated and low salience modern controversies surrounding redistricting on such issues as partisan or incumbent-protecting gerrymandering. This article analyzes survey data with the hope of gauging where Americans stand on various controversies surrounding the redistricting process. Part I briefly presents the public opinion surveys utilized and the questions most central to the analysis. Part II begins by examining the extent to which the public is uninformed and lacks opinions about redistricting. In short, Americans exhibit both characteristics”must have neither heard much about the debate nor have opinions about it. Part III analyzes the structure of public opinion where it does exist. We begin by considering the impact of demographics on public opinion. Breaking up our discussion into subsections on fairness, satisfaction, and institutional actors, we then analyze variables related to partisanship and incumbency protection. We analyze, for instance, whether respondents feel differently about the process if their party controls their state's government than if they identify with the party out of power. We look at whether, in states with divided government, respondents are any more likely to view the results redistricting outcome as fair or satisfactory than in unified governments. And we distinguish between states with maps that are biased in one party's favor and those that are not. Overall, we find that respondents hold rational opinions. Winners are happier than losers, and voters generally desire a fair process achieved through methods muting the potential influence of partisanship in the line-drawing process. Part III concludes by briefly illustrating the strong relationship that opinions on redistricting have with opinions about politicians more generally.


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Election Law Journal

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November 14, 2011