I am a Georgetown Ph.D. candidate working on parties and voting rules in the United States. My expertise covers election reform, ranked-choice voting (a.k.a. instant runoff, alternative vote), proportional representation, and multi-party legislatures in non-parliamentary systems. My work has appeared in American Politics Research, National Civic Review, The Monkey Cage, and USAPP.
Could the United States sustain a multi-party system? What happens when you combine proportional representation (PR) with American legislative institutions? How does PR win in the first place? I look for answers in the last wave of reform, 1915-60.
The American path to PR involves negotiation of new rules between a ruling-party faction and one or more out-parties. The result is a multi-party system (in practice if not name). Without legislative discipline between elections, the PR/multi-party combination is unstable. When a multi-party coalition can be fluid (i.e., will not face a snap election), its largest party can get hurt. This leads the system's largest parties to attack smaller ones by changing the voting rules. Reforms that lower electoral thresholds therefore must come with reforms of legislative practice.
This project also gives the first quantitative history of PR in American cities. I draw on newspapers, archives, and newly digitized data from three very different party systems: Cincinnati (1925-57); New York City (1937-47); and Worcester, Mass. (1947-60). No, the state/national party system did not simply reassert itself in these cities. In at least one, the party that PR wrought was critical to ending PR.
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