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Book project: The Price of Proportional Voting

Abstract: Some observers of American politics say we should switch to proportional representation (PR). How might such a system work? How might it be enacted, and how long would it last? One way to know is to consult our own history, when 24 cities had proportional systems in the first half of the 20th century. I use roll-call and election data to analyze the politics of those episodes -- both where PR was in place and where it did not catch on. America is different. Without significant new-party entry, such as what we saw in Europe, U.S. reformers embraced nonpartisanship. This did not remove the need for party organization. Under normal conditions, this led parties to diversify. But when party managers lost control of legislative business, they colluded to return to plurality voting systems.

Chapters:

  1. "America is Different" — In other countries, strong left parties gave incumbent governments reasons to reform themselves. PR has been stable in these places. In the United States, by contrast, new-party entry was weak, reform tended toward nonpartisanship, and PR was not stable.
  2. "Why Proportional Voting Had to Attack Political Parties" — A divided Progressive movement rejects party-centered reform proposals. Early movement history and precinct-level data from a test-case referendum on list PR. (Working version here.)
  3. "Party Splits, Losing Parties, and the American Path to Proportional Voting" — Documents reform coalitions in 24 PR adoptions. The typical coalition is a city's losing party, plus disgruntled figures from the majority party. Precinct-level data from three city charter reform attempts, plus aggregate data on all city charter reforms through 1950. (Earlier version published in American Politics Research.)
  4. "The Drive for a Majority: Nomination Dilemmas and Legislative Cohesion in Two City Councils" — Nonpartisan elections notwithstanding, politicians form pre-election coalitions. To win seat majorities, party managers have to nominate potentially disloyal candidates. At the same time, this dynamic improves gender, ethnoracial, and occupational diversity in government. Case history plus roll-call and election data from Cincinnati and Worcester, Mass. (Earlier version published in Electoral Studies.)
  5. "Party Discipline, Coalition Discipline, and the Repeal of Proportional Voting" — Opposing party leaders collude to repeal PR when they lose control of legislative business. Roll-call data from Cincinnati; New York City; and Worcester, Mass. (Working version here.)
  6. "The Price of Proportional Voting" — Without significant third-party entry, reform must embrace nonpartisanship. Independents may find this attractive, but they end up having to choose sides.