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  • Print publication year: 2017
  • Online publication date: September 2017

8 - “It Didn't Happen Here”: The General Implications of Electoral Geography for the Political Representation of the Poor


The previous four chapters have presented analytic case studies of the strategic entry decisions of low-income peoples’ parties. In the US, Canada, Great Britain, and Sweden – very different political economic contexts – we have observed political entrepreneurs responding to changes in local distributions of electoral power, entering electoral contests in those districts where these changes are most profound, and tailoring their political appeals to those groups who experienced important increases in their influence over electoral outcomes. The nature of these early appeals, however, and especially the structure of these early electoral coalitions (i.e., which groups were mobilized), had long-term implications for the development of social policy in each country.

What might distinguish the democracies of North America, then, from those in Europe, is the location of historical electoral opportunities. In the US, and in Canada, changes in the local distributions of electoral power, at least across income groups, were predominantly in the less-populated, agricultural regions of each country.New parties responded to these opportunities for entry with platforms that tempered social democratic impulses, and with proposals that reflected the interests of an agricultural working class. At least in Great Britain and Sweden, changes in local distributions of electoral power favored those in industrial and manufacturing sectors, and the mobilizing efforts of the new parties incorporated their interests with more explicit socialist or social democratic appeals.

Notice that this analysis is premised on the idea that opportunities for new party entry are limited. If populations and district boundaries are generally stable, then so too are local partisan networks. Established parties will be able to take positions that are optimal, given the electoral geography of their countries, and effectively limit opportunities for new party entry. What this means is that, because changes in local distributions of electoral power have generally, and on average, decreased in many countries, especially the US, opportunities for new party entry have become increasingly rare. Party systems, therefore, likely reflect the interests of those groups who have benefited from historical changes in the electoral geography of each country.

That the presence of social democratic or labor parties contributes to the generosity of social spending, and the effectiveness of social policy, is well established (see, e.g., Moller et al. 2003, Huber & Stephens 2001).

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Who Speaks for the Poor?
  • Online ISBN: 9781108304382
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