Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Caroline J. Tolbert
Districts are intermediary legislative institutions that structure the relationship between constituents and legislatures. Situated between citizens and their elected representatives, districts mediate citizen-legislator interaction, and may have wide-reaching effects on the representational relationship. By creating a political community, defining its interests by delineating its scale and boundaries, and structuring interaction between constituents and their elected representatives, districts shape the representational relationship. District characteristics alter the representational experience for constituents with very real consequences for trust in government, evaluations of legislative institutions and representatives, perceptions of responsiveness, and the degree and type of constituent-legislator communication.
Three district characteristics are examined: the population size of legislative districts (constituency size), the shape of district boundaries (geographical compactness, and the extent to which district boundaries follow pre-existing political subdivision boundaries (boundary coterminousness). Using Census data and GIS, measures of these characteristics are created for every state legislative and congressional district (post-2000 redistricting) in the United States. These characteristics are combined with public opinion data to test for their influence on attitudes toward government, legislative institutions, and legislators, as well as the closeness of the representational relationship. The findings suggest constituency size is an important determinant of evaluations of government, institutions, and legislators at both the state and congressional level. The geographical districting principles of compactness and coterminousness influence the amount of constituent-legislator communication, knowledge of representatives, and in-person contact with representatives, primarily at the congressional district level.
For decades, legislative districts have been drawn as if they matter only for the electoral success of legislative candidates and the partisan and racial groups those candidates represent. The primary contribution of this work is to show that districts matter beyond defining the dominant partisan or racial attributes of district constituents. Districts influence how representation is experienced by constituents.
Copyright 2010 Daniel Christopher Bowen