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date: 26 April 2019

Abstract and Keywords

Most research on electoral systems deals with the effects of institutions on political representation. However, political parties design the electoral systems, and thereby navigate between self-interest and multiple, often nonreconcilable normative ideals. This chapter reviews the growing literature on the choice of electoral systems from different perspectives. Structural theories explain that the choice of electoral systems is closely linked to the history of suffrage extensions, cultural heterogeneity and the organization of the economy. Agency-based theories highlight how parliamentary majorities strategically pass electoral reforms in order to consolidate their power in the long run—for instance, in order to avoid future losses in elections. However, often lawmakers fail to predict their electoral fortunes and therefore pass reforms that turn out not to be in their favor, or they even contribute to undermining their own reforms later with strategic maneuvers. Finally, the chapter analyzes the choice of electoral system in the context of transitions toward democracies and in former colonies.

Keywords: electoral rule, electoral reform, proportional representation, suffrage extension, personalization of election, constitutional engineering.

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