Research

I. Gerrymandering and Districting

State governments manipulate congressional districting to advance partisan ends. My work on partisan districting with Anthony J. McGann, Charles Anthony Smith, and Michael Latner quantifies the magnitude and scope of biased districting and approaches the problem partisan districting from a scientific perspective.

I am currently working on a follow up volume to our 2016 book, Gerrymandering in America (Cambridge University Press) that investigates partisan districting in the legislatures of the 50 U.S. states and illuminates the consequences of redistricting reforms.

Publications

McGann, Anthony J., Charles Anthony Smith, Michael Latner, and Alex Keena. 2016. Gerrymandering in America: The House of Representatives, the Supreme Court, and the Future of Popular Sovereignty. Cambridge University Press.

          • Abstract: This book considers the causes and consequences of partisan gerrymandering in the U.S. House. The Supreme Court’s decision in Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) made challenging a district plan on grounds of partisan gerrymandering practically impossible. Through a rigorous scientific analysis of U.S. House district maps, the authors argue that partisan bias increased dramatically in the 2010 redistricting round after the Vieth decision at both the national and state levels. From a constitutional perspective, unrestrained partisan gerrymandering poses a critical threat to a central pillar of American democracy – popular sovereignty. State legislatures now effectively determine the political composition of the U.S. House. The book answers the Court’s challenge to find a new standard for gerrymandering that is both constitutionally grounded and legally manageable. It argues that the scientifically rigorous partisan symmetry measure is an appropriate legal standard for partisan gerrymandering, as it is a necessary condition of individual equality and can be practically applied.
          • Reviews


McGann, Anthony J., Charles Anthony Smith, Michael Latner, and Alex Keena. 2015. "A Discernable and Manageable Standard for Partisan Gerrymandering." Election Law Journal 14(4): 295-311.

          • Abstract: The case of Vieth v. Jubelirer (2004) challenges us to find a standard for partisan gerrymandering that is judicially discernable and manageable. Without such a standard even the most egregious partisan gerrymanders cannot be effectively challenged. However, we argue that the way to find a suitable standard isnot to embark on a quest for a ‘‘new’’standard. Rather it is to take the existing valid measures that science gives us, and show that these can be grounded in constitutionally protected rights. Using recent results in social choice theory, we show that the existing partisan symmetry standard can be derived from an individual right to equal protection. We also show that the existing technology for measuring partisan symmetry can provide a judicially manageable test for partisan bias.


Media


II. Money and Congress

How does money shape politics? I am studying the long-term relationships between campaign donors and US senators to understand how the wealthy influence politics, and the causes of representational inequities.

Publications:

Keena, Alex and Misty Knight-Finley. 2019. Are Small Donors Polarizing? A Longitudinal Study of the Senate. Election Law Journal (forthcoming). doi: 10.1089/elj.2018.0498

          • Abstract: Current campaign finance law in the United States does little to redress biases in the donor population. One solution proposed by reformers is to expand the donor base to include a broader and more diverse subset of the population. Yet studies on the effects of “small” money in elections suggest that these reforms may polarize politicians. We conduct a longitudinal study of the effects of campaign finance on ideological sorting in the U.S. Senate in order to understand whether money from small donors causes ideological extremism or whether senators adopt polarizing positions as a strategy for raising money from small donors. The Senate provides a unique window into this question, because senators serve six-year terms and thus enjoy periods of time when they are not immediately accountable to their supporters. We find that a senator's receipts from small donors in previous elections have no effect on their future behavior. Rather, causality appears to flow from the politicians to the donors. Senators' voting behavior leading up to reelection has a significant effect on the money raised from small donors during the reelection at the end of the term. These results suggest that further polarization is not an inevitable consequence of campaign finance reforms that aim to improve equality in representation by expanding access to campaign contributions.


Keena, Alex and Misty Knight-Finley. 2018. Governed by Experience: Political Careers and Party Loyalty in the Senate. Congress and the Presidency 45(1): 20-40. doi: 10.1080/07343469.2017.1401019

          • Abstract: In this article, we study the U.S. Senate to understand how legislators' previous experiences in elected office influence their political behavior. We posit that, as a result of their experiences in office, former governors in the Senate are less partisan than their colleagues. We code the political jobs held by senators between 1983 and 2015 and analyze the effects of these careers on party loyalty in Senate floor votes. We find that gubernatorial service is associated with a 7–8% decrease in Party Unity. We test several hypotheses for the observed “governor effect” and find that, relative to their colleagues, former governors are supported by donor networks that are less ideologically extreme. We conclude that the unique experiences associated with serving as governor, along with the personalized nature of governors' electoral support coalitions, affect a senator's relationship with the party. Ultimately, our analysis illuminates how personal attributes, such as prior experience in elected office, can inform the study of legislative behavior.

Media:

III. Size Scaling

How does size and scale structure representational outcomes in democracy? This was the primary focus of my dissertation, The Electoral Consequences of Size in American Politics. (University of California Irvine, 2016).

I am currently investigating the effects of constituency size scaling in the Senate on campaign financing and representational equality.

Publications

Keena Alex. Who Needs the Wealthy? The Effects of Size Scaling on Money in Senate Elections. Congress and the Presidency (forthcoming).

          • Abstract: A large body of scholarship demonstrates that the population size of an electoral district affects elections in important ways, yet little is known about the implications of population size for campaigning and fundraising. I posit that the challenges of running a campaign in a populous electorate require candidates to focus their fundraising efforts on the wealthy. I analyze campaign finance records published by the Federal Election Commission during the 2006-2014 Senate elections and find that Senate candidates running in large states receive fewer donations per capita from in-state donors, but they tend to receive larger donations on average and more money from contributions of $1,500 and above. In sum, candidates tuning in populous states appear to rely upon comparably smaller pools of wealthy constituents writing larger checks to finance their campaigns. In the context of raising campaign costs, these findings suggest that constituency population growth may exasperate representational inequalities between citizens and contribute to the growing influence of the wealthy in U.S. politics.


Keena, James Alexander. 2016. The Electoral Consequences of Size in American Politics. Doctoral Dissertation in Political Science. University of California Irvine.

          • Committee: Charles Anthony Smith (co-chair); Anthony J. McGann (co-chair, University of Strathclyde); Rein Taagepera; Marek Kaminski.
          • Abstract: There are two philosophies for how elected officials should posture to voters. One approach holds that officials should appeal to the centrists in their district, while another suggests that a legislator should ignore the middle and appeal to the partisan base. I posit that size determines the viability of each strategy. Because the number of constituents living within a district imposes physical limits on the accessibility of a representative to the public, it determines the quality of representational relationship and the value of democratic engagement for the average citizen. I outline a theory of size and electoral engagement that holds that, as district population increases, the electorate becomes less engaged in elections, such that fewer citizens turnout to vote and support candidates. I test the empirical implications of this theory with an analysis of thousands of returns from national, state, and local elections in America. My results show that size depresses voter turnout. I observe similar effects on campaign financing by the public during US Senate elections. In large states, fewer citizens donate to candidates, and candidates receive less money per capita in “small” donations. The effects of size on voter engagement have implications for how legislators behave strategically in order to secure reelection. In the Senate, I find that legislators discount the views of the district median in favor of extremists within their base as the size of their state increases. This analysis has implications for the study of democracy beyond the context of American politics. The primary contribution of this book is that it provides a rigorously tested, logically grounded theoretical framework that explains the role of population variation in structuring political behavior in both sides of the representational relationship.