Friday, August 6, 2010

Redistricting -- And What People Know

I've never thought to approach what people know in quite this way, but a press release sums up research that finds, well, here's the first four graphs if you don't want to follow my link:

The age-old practice of dividing congressional districts evenly by population speaks to such American ideals as fairness and equality. But when a county's residents are carved into separate districts simply to maintain that numerical parity, many end up struggling at the ballot box, a new study finds.

In a first-of-its-kind national analysis of voting behavior, political scientists Michael Wagner and Jonathan Winburn examined the electoral consequences of redistricting on natural "communities of interest." Most notably, they found that voters who had been carved into new districts that mainly covered areas outside their home counties knew far less about their new House candidates than voters who weren't redistricted.

In fact, the redistricted voters with low levels of political knowledge were only half as likely than voters in their former home district to even be able to name their congressperson or their congressperson's challenger in an upcoming election. Redistricted voters with high political knowledge were only two-thirds as likely as voters in their former district to name their representative.

That's a huge informational disadvantage, the study asserts, and can lead to big problems in the voting booth.
Interesting stuff.  Throwing people out of their comfort zone, or district, either makes them face all new names or perhaps lowers their motivation to find out who the new key political actors are.  Whatever the mechanism, it's an interesting result and I love finding a study that explores political knowledge from a new perspective. 

Oh, if you want the study, read the graph below for details:
The study, which appears in the current issue of the journal Political Research Quarterly, combined Geographic Information System technology with American National Election Studies survey responses from 1994-2002. This unique method allowed researchers to visualize data in maps and charts that revealed relationships, patterns and trends.
I'll try tonight or tomorrow to dig up the actual study, because I'm very curious about this methodology and, in particular, what knowledge items they may have used from the 1994-2002 studies.  I think I know, but I wanna be sure.  Then I may have additional comments.

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