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Book project: The Politics of Proportional Voting

Abstract: Democratic government gives people choice between competing elite coalitions. What happens when that system stops working? Sometimes people turn to proportional representation, a way of making legislatures more open to ferment in civil society. Systems of "PR" swept the democratic world in the first half of the 20th century. Most of them produce multi-party government. But in the United States, the PR movement sought to end party government — at least in outward appearance. This book tells the story of its rise and fall in 24 cities, 1893-1962, from the perspective of politicians. The resilience of America's two-party system means that PR elections will be candidate-based, efforts to adopt them will be bipartisan, and resulting party systems will be responsive to independents. Such PR systems tend to endure as long as key interest groups get the policies they want.


  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 similar-city charter reform attempts, plus aggregate data on all city charter reforms through 1950. (Earlier version published in American Politics Research.)
  4. "The Dance Between Parties and Independents" — Nonpartisan elections notwithstanding, politicians form pre-election coalitions. To win seat majorities, party managers have to nominate independent movement figures. This dynamic improves gender, ethnoracial, and occupational diversity in government at the expense of legislative cohesion. 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" — Key interest groups from both major parties collude to repeal PR when they lose control of their parties' rank-and-file. Roll-call data from Cincinnati; New York City; and Worcester, Mass. (Working version here.)
  6. "The Price of Proportional Voting" — History is repeating itself. Reform will embrace nonpartisanship, independents will have to choose sides, and party managers will seek to cajole them. Current interest in other reforms is a precursor to all of this.