15 Jan 2014  Working Papers

Redrawing the Lines: Did Political Incumbents Influence Electoral Redistricting in the World’s Largest Democracy?

Executive Summary — Most democratic countries undergo a process of redrawing their electoral boundaries every few years, usually with the goal of equalizing population sizes across constituencies. While this is important in maintaining the principle of one-person, one-vote, there is concern that the redistricting process can be influenced by political incumbents to create safe seats, where incumbents are unlikely to face strong electoral challenges ("gerrymandering"). In this paper the authors study this issue in the context of India, the world's largest democracy. India redrew the boundaries of national and state electoral constituencies in 2008 after a gap of three decades. Examining the influence of political incumbents on this redistricting process, the authors find that, by and large, the process achieved its primary goal of equalizing population sizes across constituencies. More importantly, the redistricting process does not appear to have been influenced by incumbent politicians to a great extent, although there is some evidence that the constituencies of specific politicians (advisory committee members) were less likely to undergo unfavorable changes. Overall, the redistricting process did not make a large difference to either the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent party or the electoral prospects of incumbent politicians. An important policy conclusion of the study is that it is possible to implement politically neutral redistricting plans in a developing country, provided that a non-political body is in charge of the process, and that the process is transparent and inclusive of all relevant stakeholders. Key concepts include:

  • The recently completed electoral redistricting process in India substantially changed the boundaries of both state and national electoral constituencies.
  • In this case the redistricting process did not make a large difference to either the advantage enjoyed by the incumbent party or the electoral prospects of incumbent politicians.
  • The redistricting was conducted by a non-partisan commission, but several incumbent politicians were part of an advisory committee for the commission, suggesting that there might have been avenues for incumbents to influence the process.
  • This methodology may be applicable to other countries and electoral systems. It offers an advance in proposing simple measures of the extent of redistricting of specific constituencies, which can be easily computed with the availability of GIS data to match up the boundaries of old and new constituencies.

 

Author Abstract

In 2008, the boundaries of national and state electoral constituencies in India were redrawn for the first time in three decades. We use detailed demographic and electoral data to construct measures of the extent of redistricting in a given constituency. We find the redistricting process to be politically neutral for the most part, though a few politicians who were advisory members for the redistricting process were able to avoid unfavorable redistricting outcomes for their specific constituencies. Incumbents whose constituencies became reserved for members of specific communities are significantly less likely to run for re-election following redistricting.

Paper Information