Standard political economy models of redistribution, notably that of Meltzer and Richard (1981), fail to account for the remarkable variance in government redistribution across democracies. We develop a general model of redistribution that explains why some democratic governments are more prone to redistribute than others. We show that the electoral system plays a key role because it shapes the nature of political parties and the composition of governing coalitions, hence redistribution. Our argument implies (1) that center-left governments dominate under PR systems, whereas center-right governments dominate under majoritarian systems; and (2) that PR systems redistribute more than majoritarian systems. We test our argument on panel data for redistribution, government partisanship, and electoral system in advanced democracies.
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