Redistricting is infamous as a partisan tool for the manipulation of legislative elections, but in reality, crafting party electoral strategies requires more than merely constructing salamander-shaped districts on a map. In recent years, that strategy must include a long-term component to account for the “redistricting cycle,” because, in the period following the Supreme Court’s “one person, one vote” decisions, redistricting has become a regular, predictable occurrence following each decennial Census.
The archetypal implications of this cycle for state legislative politics can be described succinctly as follows: Elections immediately following redistricting are fraught with uncertainty, as incumbents seek to acclimatize themselves to new districts, and challengers see incumbents as being unusually vulnerable. Later in the decade, incumbents re-establish themselves in their districts, and challengers are more hesitant to run. Finally, the decade concludes with a pivotal election, after which the legislative majority may possess the ability to shape elections for the next decade.
The fittingness of this narrative depends on many factors that vary across states: the legal environment, legislative career patterns, political geography, and the existing redistricting plan. Only after accounting for these factors can parties develop sound strategies for competing in the next ten years of legislative elections.
In the first essay of this dissertation, I explore how the redistricting cycle influences party organizations’ allocation of resources to state legislative candidates. Here, parties must weigh two competing considerations: supporting the most competitive candidates and winning majority status in the legislature. In the elections immediately prior to redistricting, I argue that party strategy must prioritize gaining control of the redistricting process. I find that majority parties are particularly protective of their majority status and that minority parties aggressively try to win majority status, but that these patterns only exist in states where redistricting is a legislative responsibility.
In the second essay, I focus on party behavior in the creation of redistricting plans, particularly the extent to which incumbents’ districts are kept geographically intact. I argue that this form of partisan manipulation can be more valuable than manipulations that focus on the partisan composition of districts. I find that long-term membership stability plays a key role in determining the relative importance of district intactness: it is considerably more important in career legislatures and less important in springboard legislatures.
In the third essay, I return to the subject of party finance and turn my attention to the uncertain electoral environment that follows redistricting. I argue that party organizations devise strategies that are responsive to redistricting outcomes, and particularly to changes in partisan composition and geographic constituencies that individual incumbents face. I find that party organizations are successful in “implementing” redistricting plans: parties in springboard legislatures are most responsive to targeting based on voting patterns, while parties in career legislatures are highly responsive to patterns of constituency change.
The combined findings of these essays demonstrate that parties have become adept at exploiting the contours of the redistricting cycle, despite empirical evidence suggesting that partisan gains from redistricting are limited, conditional, and short-term.