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Apportionment Cycles as Natural Experiments

By Roy Elis, Neil Malhotra and Marc Meredith


Although there are compelling theoretical reasons to believe that unequal political representation in a legislature leads to an unequal distribution of funds, testing such theories empirically is challenging because it is difficult to separate the effects of representation from the effects of either population levels or changes. We leverage the natural experiment generated by infrequent and discrete Census apportionment cycles to estimate the distributional effects of malapportionment in the U.S. House of Representatives. We find that changes in representation cause changes in the distribution of federal outlays to the states. Our method is exportable to any democratic system in which reapportionments are regular, infrequent, and non-strategic. Following Census 2000, the state of Utah was allocated three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, falling short of the threshold for a fourth seat by 857 people less than 0.04% of its population. Utah vociferously challenged the Census count, taking its case all the way to the Supreme Court (Utah v. Evans 2001, 2002) where it contested both the imputation methods used by the Census Bureau to estimate apportionment populations and also the statute that counts overseas military personnel but not Mormon missionaries residing abroad. Utah lost both cases. As a result, the average district in Utah in 2003 represented 746,000 residents instead of 560,000 residents as would have been the case if the state had been awarded four seats. The conteste

Year: 2013
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