Todd Makse


Current Research

The Franklin County Neighborhoods and Elections Study: The FCNES is a multifaceted study focusing on the dissemination of political yard signs in neighborhoods. For more detail, please see the project website.

Communities of Interest in Redistricting :

Defining 'Communities of Interest' in Redistricting Through Initiative Voting (Election Law Journal 11: 503-517)

Abstract: Scholars of redistricting often make reference to "communities of interest," either to describe what districts should look like, or to criticize blatant partisan gerrymanders. The term, however, suffers from a great deal of ambiguity, the lack of an objective measurement strategy, and the absence of a methodology for translating beliefs about communities of interest into districting plans. In this article, I suggest a novel approach to defining communities of interest: using the results from statewide initiatives votes to allow voters to essentially define their own communities of interest at the ballot box. Such a definition would be fundamentally political--as opposed to geographic, demographic, civic, or historical--but would not be rooted solely in partisanship. This approach would also satisfy two of the concerns addressed above. First, it recommends a specific, objective, affirmative basis for constructing districts, not merely a list of recommendations, prohibitions, or standards that need to be satisfied. Second, it tends to produce a narrow, highly constrained set of possible solutions, and as such, makes it extremely difficult to gerrymander.

Policy diffusion

The Role of Policy Attributes in the Diffusion of Innovations (With Craig Volden. Journal of Politics 73: 108-124) Abstract: Studies of policy diffusion have given insufficient attention to the role that characteristics of the policies themselves play in determining the speed of policy diffusion and the mechanisms through which diffusion occurs. We adopt Everett Rogers' (1983, 2004) attribute typology from the diffusion of innovations literature and apply it to a sample of 27 policy innovations from the sphere of criminal justice policy in the U.S. states between 1973 and 2002. We find that policy attributes, ranging from the relative advantage of the policy over its predecessors to its complexity to its compatibility with past practices, affect the likelihood of adoption. Furthermore, policy attributes shape the extent to which spatial adoption patterns and learning mechanisms are relevant to the policy's diffusion.

Policy Attributes, Legislative Entrepreneurship, and the Diffusion of Innovations Abstract: While the diffusion of policy innovations has been studied extensively at the enactment stage, relatively less attention has been paid to the earlier stages of the process (Karch 2007). In particular, we know relatively little about factors that influence the agenda-setting stage, in which the actions of individual "legislative entrepreneurs" (Mintrom 1997; Wawro 2000) are more important than the institutional, political, and spatial factors that are highly relevant at the enactment stage. In this paper, I argue that patterns in legislative entrepreneurship should be influenced by political and institutional factors, such as expertise and electoral self-interest, but also by five policy attributes, the characteristics associated with Everett Rogers' typology of innovation attributes. I examine patterns of bill sponsorship across 45 state legislatures in the area of criminal justice policy, looking at innovative policies adopted and considered between 1993 and 2004. I find that policy attributes do not directly influence the likelihood of legislative entrepreneurship, but that policy attributes condition the relationship between legislative specialization and entrepreneurship.


My dissertation, entitled The Redistricting Cycle in American State Politics, examines the strategic behavior surrounding redistricting, one of the most inherently spatial processes in politics, but also an infamous partisan tool for the manipulation of electoral outcomes. The redistricting "cycle" refers to the regularity of redistricting at ten-year intervals, a feature that has only been present since the �one person, one vote� decisions of the 1960s.

The archetypal implications of this cycle for state legislative politics can be described succinctly as follows: Elections immediately following redistricting are fraught with uncertainty, as incumbents seek to acclimatize themselves to new districts, and challengers see incumbents as being unusually vulnerable. Later in the decade, incumbents re-establish themselves in their districts, and challengers are more hesitant to run. Finally, the decade concludes with a pivotal election, after which the legislative majority may possess the ability to shape elections for the next decade. The fittingness of this narrative depends on many factors that vary across states: the legal environment, legislative career patterns, political geography, and the existing redistricting plan. Only after accounting for these factors can parties develop sound strategies for competing in the next ten years of legislative elections.

In the first essay of my dissertation, I explore how the redistricting cycle influences party organizations' allocation of resources to state legislative candidates. Here, parties must weigh two competing considerations: supporting the most competitive candidates and winning majority status in the legislature. In the elections immediately prior to redistricting, I argue that party strategy must prioritize gaining control of the redistricting process. I find that majority parties are particularly protective of their majority status and that minority parties aggressively try to win majority status, but that these patterns only exist in states where redistricting is a legislative responsibility. An earlier version of this essay received the 2006 Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the State Politics and Policy Section of APSA.

In the second essay (published in Legislative Studies Quarterly 37: 225-250), I focus on party behavior in the creation of redistricting plans, particularly the extent to which incumbents' districts are kept geographically intact. I argue that this form of partisan manipulation can be more valuable than manipulations that focus on the partisan composition of districts. I find that long-term membership stability plays a key role in determining the relative importance of district intactness: it is considerably more important in career legislatures and less important in springboard legislatures.

In the third essay, I return to the subject of party finance and turn my attention to the uncertain electoral environment that follows redistricting. I argue that party organizations devise strategies that are responsive to redistricting outcomes, and particularly to changes in partisan composition and geographic constituencies that individual incumbents face. I find that party organizations are successful in �implementing� redistricting plans: parties in springboard legislatures are most responsive to targeting based on voting patterns, while parties in career legislatures are highly responsive to patterns of constituency change. This essay also was the recipient of the Best Graduate Student Paper Award from the State Politics section of APSA, in 2008.

The combined findings of these essays demonstrate that parties have become adept at exploiting the contours of the redistricting cycle, despite empirical evidence suggesting that partisan gains from redistricting are limited, conditional, and short-term. The influence of the redistricting cycle also suggests an emerging pattern in which some elections are inherently more consequential than others, not due to current issues or policy agendas, but merely due to the year in which they occur. Such a pattern is anomalous and perhaps troubling in a democracy, and the implications of the redistricting cycle demand attention from both positive and normative scholars.

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