Contextual Effects of Redistricting on Old and New Voters: Sometimes Newcomer Ignorance Can Mean Electoral Bliss for the Incumbent


  • Richard Born Vassar College



            Research directed at the effects of congressional redistricting on individual voters mainly has centered on transplanted constituents’ lesser tendency relative to that of retained constituents to back the incumbent. Differences in the impacts that district-level (i.e., contextual) factors have on the two types of voters, however, have been slighted. In this study, we find that campaign spending affects transplanted and retained voters commensurately, but that the effects of district partisan homogeneity in raising the odds of a pro-incumbent vote and of member ideological extremity in decreasing these odds are only exerted on retained constituents. The explanation seems to be that information conveyed by candidate spending, which only emerges over the duration of the campaign, is equally accessible to new and old constituents alike, whereas old constituents have had longer opportunity to process information about district partisanship and incumbent ideology. From the reelection perspective of incumbents who represent districts with unfriendly partisanship or who have extreme ideology, the non-responsiveness of new constituents to these latter two contextual factors is therefore an electoral asset, implying that such members, contrary to the congressional norm, should favor large-scale transfusions of new constituents at redistricting time.

Author Biography

Richard Born, Vassar College

Professor of Political Science


Ansolabehere, Stephen, James M. Snyder, Jr., and Charles Stewart, III. 2000. “Old Voters, New Voters, and the Personal Vote: Using Redistricting to Measure the Incumbency Advantage.” American Journal of Political Science 44 (January): 17-34.

Ansolabehere, Stephen, James M. Snyder, Jr., and Charles Stewart, III. 2001. “Candidate Positioning in U.S. House Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 45 (January): 136-59.

Bickel, Robert. 2007. Multilevel Analysis for Applied Research: It’s Just Regression! New York: Guilford Press.

Books, John W., and Charles L. Prysby. 1988. “Studying Contextual Effects on Political Behavior: A Research Inventory and Agenda.” American Politics Quarterly 16 (April): 211-38.

Books, John W., and Charles L. Prysby. 1991. Political Behavior and the Local Context. New York: Praeger.

Burbank, Matthew J. 1997. “Explaining Contextual Effects on Vote Choice.” Political Behavior 19 (June): 113-32.

Canes-Wrone, Brandice, David W. Brady, and John F. Cogan. 2002. “Out of Step, Out of Office: Electoral Accountability and House Members’ Voting.” American Political Science Review 96 (March): 127-40.

Crespin, Michael H. 2005. “Using Geographic Information Systems to Measure District Change, 2000-2002.” Political Analysis 13 (Summer): 253-60.

Desposato, Scott W., and John R. Petrocik. 2003. “The Variable Incumbency Advantage: New Voters, Redistricting, and the Personal Vote.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (January): 18-32.

Desposato, Scott W., and John R. Petrocik. 2005. “Redistricting and Incumbency: The New Voter Effect.” In Redistricting in the New Millennium, ed. Peter F. Galderisi. Lanham, MD.: Lexington Books.

Erikson, Robert S., and Gerald C. Wright. 2013. “Voters, Candidates, and Issues in Congressional Elections.” In Congress Reconsidered, 10th ed., eds. Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer. Los Angeles: SAGE/CQ Press.

Gelman, Andrew, and Jennifer Hill. 2007. Data Analysis Using Regression and Multilevel/Hierarchical Models. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gelman, Andrew, David Park, Boris Shor, Joseph Bafumi, and Jeronimo Cortina. 2008. Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Hayes, Danny, and Seth C. McKee. 2009. “The Participatory Effects of Redistricting.” American Journal of Political Science 53 (October): 1006-23.

Hood, III, M. V., and Seth C. McKee. 2010. “Stranger Danger: Redistricting, Incumbent Recognition, and Vote Choice.” Social Science Quarterly 91 (June): 344-58.

Hood, III, M. V., and Seth C. McKee. 2013. “Unwelcome Constituents: Redistricting and Countervailing Partisan Tides.” State Politics and Policy Quarterly 13 (June): 203-24.

Jacobson, Gary C. 2013. “Partisanship, Money, and Competition: Elections and the Transformation of Congress since the 1970s.” In Congress Reconsidered, 10th ed., eds. Lawrence C. Dodd and Bruce I. Oppenheimer. Los Angeles: SAGE/CQ Press.

Jacobson, Gary C., and Jamie L. Carson. 2016. The Politics of Congressional Elections, 9th ed. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

McDaniel, Jason A. 2014. “The Politics that Places Make: Contextual Effects and the Future of Political Behavior Research.” International Journal of Humanities and Social Science 4 (March): 1-7.

McKee, Seth C. 2008a. “The Effects of Redistricting on Voting Behavior in Incumbent U.S. House Elections, 1992-1994.” Political Research Quarterly 61 (March): 122-33.

McKee, Seth C. 2008b. “Redistricting and Familiarity with U.S. House Candidates.” American Politics Research 36 (November): 962-79.

McKee, Seth C. 2013. “Political Conditions and the Electoral Effects of Redistricting.” American Politics Research 41 (July): 623-46.

McKee, Seth C., Jeremy M. Teigen, and Mathieu Turgeon. 2006. “The Partisan Impact of Congressional Redistricting: The Case of Texas, 2001-2003.” Social Science Quarterly 87 (June): 308-17.

Pattie, Charles, and Ron Johnston. 2000. “’People Who Talk Together Vote Together’: An Exploration of Contextual Effects in Great Britain.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 90 (Issue 1): 41-66.

Petrocik, John R., and Scott W. Desposato. 1998. “The Partisan Consequences of Majority-Minority Redistricting in the South, 1992 and 1994.” Journal of Politics 60 (August): 613-33.

Poole, Keith T., and Howard Rosenthal. 2007. Ideology and Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting, 2nd ed. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers.

Rush, Mark E. 2000. Does Redistricting Make a Difference?: Partisan Representation and Electoral Behavior. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.

Skrondal, Anders, and Sophie Rabe-Hesketh. 2009. “Prediction in Multilevel Generalized Linear Models.” Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series A 172 (June): 659-87.

Steenbergen, Marco R., and Bradford S. Jones. 2002. “Modeling Multilevel Data Structures.” American Journal of Political Science 46 (January): 218-37.

Yoshinaka, Antoine, and Chad Murphy. 2011. “The Paradox of Redistricting: How Partisan Mapmakers Foster Competition but Disrupt Representation.” Political Research Quarterly 64 (June): 435-47.