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Choosing Electoral Rules: Theory and Evidence from US Cities

  • Philippe Aghion
  • Alberto Alesina
  • Francesco Trebbi

This paper studies the choice of electoral rules, in particular, the question of minority representation. Majorities tend to disenfranchise minorities through strategic manipulation of electoral rules. With the aim of explaining changes in electoral rules adopted by US cities (particularly in the South), we show why majorities tend to adopt "winner-take-all" city-wide rules (at-large elections) in response to an increase in the size of the minority when the minority they are facing is relatively small. In this case, for the majority it is more effective to leverage on its sheer size instead of risking to concede representation to voters from minority-elected districts. However, as the minority becomes larger (closer to a fifty-fifty split), the possibility of losing the whole city induces the majority to prefer minority votes to be confined in minority-packed districts. Single-member district rules serve this purpose. We show empirical results consistent with these implications of the model.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 11236.

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Date of creation: Apr 2005
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Publication status: published as Aghion, Philippe, Alberto Alesina, and Francesco Trebbi. "Electoral Rules and Minority Representation in U.S. Cities." The Quarterly Journal of Economics 123, 1 (February 2008): 325-357.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11236
Note: PE POL
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  1. Philippe Aghion & Alberto Alesina & Francesco Trebbi, 2002. "Endogenous Political Institutions," NBER Working Papers 9006, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Alberto Alesina & Reza Baqir & Caroline Hoxby, 2002. "Political Jurisdictions in Heterogeneous Communities," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1949, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
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  13. Wacziarg, Romain & Imbs, Jean, 2000. "Stages of Diversification," Research Papers 1653, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
  14. Casey B. Mulligan & Xavier Sala-i-Martin & Ricard Gil, 2003. "Do Democracies Have Different Public Policies than Nondemocracies?," NBER Working Papers 10040, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. Henning Bohn & Robert P. Inman, . "Balanced Budget Rules and Public Deficits: Evidence from the U.S. States (Reprint 060)," Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research Working Papers 10-96, Wharton School Rodney L. White Center for Financial Research.
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