The Contingent Effect of Institutions: Ethno-Cultural Polarization, Electoral Formulas and Election Quality

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Kitschelt, Herbert

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Less democratic countries conduct elections under the majoritarian electoral formula more often than under proportional representation by a wide margin. Yet, robust democratic systems utilize both majoritarian and PR electoral formulas with great success. This dissertation approaches this empirical puzzle and tries to unveil what role, if any, electoral formulas play in politics.

To do so, it focuses on the electoral process exclusively and utilizes Judith Kelley's recently completed comprehensive dataset on election quality to perform some large-sample statistical analyses of the relationship between the electoral formula, ethno-cultural polarization and election quality. Then, it presents three in-depth case studies of Nigeria, Ghana and Indonesia to unveil in more detail institutional origins and the mechanisms of electoral manipulation, as refracted through the electoral formula.

The conclusions reached are that PR is much better suited for conducting free and fair elections in ethno-culturally polarized countries. Yet, majoritarian and mixed formulas perform just as well when polarization is low. This finding is directly related to an ongoing debate by institutional designers and academics alike and provides systematic quantitative and detailed qualitative support. The study also suggests that PR might not only mediate inter-ethnic differences when disagreement is high, but also reduces the level of polarization if applied over several electoral cycles.





Kolev, Kiril Kolev (2011). The Contingent Effect of Institutions: Ethno-Cultural Polarization, Electoral Formulas and Election Quality. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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