Historical Congressional District Mapper

Tom DelayOf several to choose from, the most annoying feature of our Constitution is apportionment in the House. As far back as 17th century colonial elections, gerrymandering has afflicted single-member districts in the U.S. While the Warren Court’s “one person, one vote” rule was supposed to create fairer boundaries (especially for urban population centers), technology has caught up: a 12-year-old using ArcGIS and a population layer can now easily create a nearly all-Republican House of Representatives. While the Supreme Court (which has produced a mess of weird case law on the subject: Shaw v. Reno held that the creation of majority-minority districts violated the Equal Protection Clause, but later decisions hold that racial redistricting criteria is acceptable if the purpose is to dilute Democratic representation in Congress…), as well as new “independent” commissions empowered by state statutes to draw the district lines, aspire to objective redistricting criteria (“compactness,” “contiguity,” etc.), this is a fiction. The rules are never neutral.

Redistricting is especially annoying to Political Scientists, since it makes studying Congress harder. It can be hard to find demographic characteristics for these districts before the 2000s, since districts are short-lived in their incarnations. Intercensal redistricting (which did not originate in Texas back in 2003; it happens all the time) means that even the best historical measures of district attributes are imprecise. Moreover, redistricting makes studying elections a pain. Redistricting is a major factor in members of Congress’ [MC] election fortunes and decisions to retire, and so figures as a control variable; but aren’t some cases of redistricting more dramatic than others? How does one quantify this? More technically speaking, statistical models where the unit of analysis is the MC suffer from serial correlation, which inflates the effect sizes of predictors and is fixable by clustering the standard errors on each MC’s district; these districts, however, change over time, making this diagnostic an incomplete solution.

To help visualize all the changes districts have undergone in the “one person, one vote” era, I have written a web application that displays every incarnation of all 435 Congressional districts (plus some defunct ones) since the 1960s. It is available at http://www.cliffordvickrey.com/district/. Have fun!

About cvickrey

Clifford Vickrey spends his days confounding the wise.
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