A product of the environment: environmental constraint, candidate behavior and the speed of democracy



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Texas A&M University


Elections are the engine that drives democracy. The central question of this dissertation relates to the speed of that engine: How long does it take for elections to reflect changing preferences in the electorate? The findings presented in this dissertation suggest that electoral change is the result of a gradual process of natural selection in which the political environment, rather than district service activity, is the key variable. Comparing elections data across different types of district environment, I find evidence that the environment affects levels of competition and electoral outcomes. Utilizing an event history statistical model to examine various risk factors for electoral defeat, I find that the political environment of the district is the most important factor influencing the risk of defeat even when controlling for district service behaviors. Over time, the district environment operates as a self-correcting mechanism, purging political misfits and replacing them with representatives who better reflect the ideology of the district. Electoral change typically results more from evolution than revolution ? it may not occur quickly, and it may not occur in every district, but it does occur when and where it is needed.