Canada has often provided a natural comparison to the US in explanations of why no American labor party emerged. Certainly, this was the case for Lipset (1968, ix), who “was interested in learning why an avowedly socialist party, the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, was winning elections in Canada, when comparable efforts had brought no such success to the United States.” To Lipset, “it seemed that many of the social conditions that various commentators had cited to explain ‘why there is no socialism in the United States’ were also present in Canada.” For example, Canada shares with the US an open land frontier, the absence of a feudal past, higher rates of social mobility than were present in Europe, and preindustrial democratic and party system development. Indeed, Canada also shares important institutional features – SMDs and a federal structure of government – that have been emphasized by Chhibber and Kollman (2004) and others in explanations of the development of party systems.
Like Chapter 4's analysis of the US at the end of the nineteenth century, the focus here is on changes in local distributions of electoral power, and the opportunities these changes created for political entrepreneurs. To the extent that the established parties and their candidates were tied to national platforms, changes in the composition of a subset of districts that favor one group over others created opportunities for new party entry.
What is especially interesting about the Canadian case is the nearly simultaneous formation of parties with very different ideological commitments. Here, I evaluate the extent to which changes in the electoral power of low-income voters in Canada created opportunities for the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) and Social Credit parties. The CCF and Social Credit – parties of the left and right, respectively – formed in the early 1930s and recruited candidates to contest the 1935 federal election. That they contested largely the same districts – of the forty-five districts contested by Social Credit, the CCF contested forty-two (and seventy-one more) – and aimed to mobilize largely the same groups of voters suggests that the party leaders’ decisions were shaped by incentive structures that were similar and in which locally-emerging policy preferences played a subordinate role. Further, the evidence of strategic recruitment and entry of candidates is difficult to reconcile with an “up-from-the-bottom” account of party formation that emphasizes citizen demands.
This book presents a general theory of party formation and entry in which demographic changes present political entrepreneurs with important opportunities. When a particular group becomes pivotal in legislative elections across some number of districts, and especially when this group is excluded from local partisan networks because of its recent arrival or because of suffrage restrictions, political entrepreneurs can pursue their office-seeking goals by mobilizing this group as a core constituency. While most of this book will test this claim by examining the conditions under which political entrepreneurs will mobilize a low-income constituency, this chapter will present a broadly comparative analysis that will show that new parties generally enter electoral competition following major changes in electoral geography. Specifically, for a large number of developed democracies, the analysis presented here will track local population changes from around 1880 through 2000, and show that all new parties are more likely to enter electoral competition during those periods in which we observe the largest changes in district electorates. By estimating the magnitude of local population change – evidence of internal migration or immigration – this analysis will focus attention on key periods in which new electoral opportunities likely presented themselves to political entrepreneurs.
The following section summarizes the earlier argument about why concentrated demographic changes represent electoral opportunities for new parties. Then, drawing on data for a large number of countries, and an extended period of time, this chapter develops a measure of local population change. Finally, this chapter uses data on the total number of new parties entering electoral competition in a particular decade as the dependent variable in an analysis that links local population change to electoral opportunity and new party formation.
LOCAL POPULATION CHANGE AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR PARTY ENTRY
Chapter 2 developed an account of party formation in which political entrepreneurs are faced with two decisions: (1) whether or not to form a new party (i.e., announce a policy platform), and (2) where to recruit candidates (i.e., enter electoral competition). When the political entrepreneurs face an established party system and a stable distribution of voters, the barriers to entry are high. The established parties have adopted platforms that maximize their share of seats in the legislature, and cultivated local partisan networks that sustain their electoral success.
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).
This chapter examines why and how changing electoral geography creates new opportunities for party formation. In particular, this chapter addresses the questions of when political entrepreneurs will form new parties, and which groupsthey will represent in a general theoretical argument. Implications from this general account will motivate a broadly comparative analysis of all new party entry in the next chapter, and then will be applied to the specific case of low-income voters: Under which conditions will political entrepreneurs recruit candidates to represent the interests of the poor? This chapter will argue that what matters, for the partisan and political representation of low-income voters, is how income groups are geographically distributed across electoral districts, and how this geographic distribution changes during crucial periods of migration and immigration.
Before proceeding, it is helpful to situate the argument presented here in the context of existing research on party formation and entry.
Stokes (1999a) addresses the question of when new parties form by distinguishing answers developed in the “comparative sociology of politics” literature from the answers developed in the institutional analysis of comparative political economists. Largely following Lipset and Rokkan (1967), political sociology explanations emphasize the long-term effects of social cleavages and alliances during crucial periods of transition, especially the Reformation and the Industrial Revolution. Parties, in this account, reflect the preferences of more-or-less well-defined coalitions in a society. More recent party formation, particularly green parties and extreme right parties, is attributed to the changing preferences of voters, and the inability of established parties to accommodate these new preferences (e.g., Aldrich 2011, Kitschelt et al. 1999, Inglehart 1997). Rosenstone, Behr, and Lazarus (1984) similarly emphasize changes in citizen demands in their account of American third parties. Understanding which groups are represented in party politics, in comparative sociological accounts, therefore, requires an accounting of major social cleavages, citizen preferences, and attitudes. And, within this tradition, the answer to the question of when new parties form is that they emerge when voters’ preferences shift so dramatically that new cleavages arise.
One limitation of the “up-from-the-bottom” explanations, as Kalyvas (1996) and Stokes (1999a) note, are their failures to take into account the costs and strategic incentives of those who do the work of organizing and mobilizing.
Who speaks for the poor? More generally, why do parties and legislators represent the interests of some groups, and not others? In the United States, advocates for low-income citizens are hard to identify: Recent political science research demonstrates, for example, that elected officials often ignore low-income Americans’ preferences and interests (e.g., Gilens 2012, Bartels 2008). Further, the absence of social democratic or workers’ parties – parties that usually represent the interests of low-income citizens – distinguishes the US from all other post-industrial democracies. Why have social democratic or workers’ parties formed and persisted in other countries? Why are legislators in other democratic societies more responsive to the preferences of low-income citizens, compared to their American counterparts?
By focusing on the political and partisan representation of low-income citizens, this book will offer an innovative explanation for a long-standing puzzle of comparative politics – why do parties represent the interests of some groups, while others are never mobilized as a partisan constituency? Specifically, this book will show that parties represent the interests of those groups who are favored by changes in electoral geography. In the case of low-income voters, political entrepreneurs saw electoral opportunities in the changing electoral geographies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and responded by forming new parties and mobilizing low-income communities. Whether these “third-party men” developed populist or social democratic platforms reflects the location and interests of newly pivotal voters. That is, when the newly pivotal low-income voters were predominantly agricultural, new parties developed populist platforms; alternatively, social democratic platforms reflected the interests of newly pivotal industrial workers. Policy (i.e., poverty) responsiveness varied with the structure of local needs, and had lasting, cumulative effects on social policy in each country. Importantly, therefore, elections do not simply aggregate preferences (or grievances) around which parties and candidates mobilize. Rather, which preferences – whose interests – are expressed by parties and candidates is a direct consequence of which groups are favored by changing electoral geographies.
This explanation is quite different from existing accounts of cross-national variation in social policy, which typically emphasize tastes (or demand) for redistribution and beliefs about the origins of poverty, the historical role of unions and class-based organizations in Europe, the disenfranchising effects of increasing income inequality in the United States, or electoral rules and their effects on government formation.
This book is the result of a decade-long effort to understand how electoral rules affect the political representation of low-income citizens. In practice, individuals’ votes are (almost) never weighted equally in the tallying of election results: legislatures are limited in size, and seats are almost always contested in districts. When the relationship between votes and seats for groups (rather than individuals) is examined, differences between national vote shares and seat shares can be profound. Groups vary in their electoral power because of the way their members are distributed across districts, and because of the way seats are allocated. What are the consequences of inequality in electoral power, particularly differences in the electoral power of income groups, for public policy and, ultimately, the common good?
My dissertation, completed while I was a visiting graduate student in the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics (CSDP) at Princeton University, provides the motivation for this larger project. A key finding in my dissertation shows that the electoral power of a low-income voting bloc varies across countries. That is, if all low-income citizens (defined as the poorest third in each country) turned out to vote, and they all cast ballots for the same parties, they would elect dramatically different proportions of their legislatures, despite their equivalent shares of each population. This variation transcends the usual distinction between majoritarian and proportional representation: there are consequential differences in the electoral power of the poor, even among countries with similar electoral systems. Importantly, low-income Americans were most under-represented in the mapping of votes to seats, and were pivotal in only about 5 percent of contests for the House of Representatives. (Chapter 8 replicates this analysis with new data, and a new measurement strategy.)
When viewed from the perspective of electoral power, it is not surprising that American legislators appear more responsive to their wealthier constituents (see Gilens 2012, Bartels 2008). American legislators rarely rely on the electoral support of low-income voters, and few have incentives to be responsive to their interests.
The case of British Labour might seem quite different from the American and Canadian parties. To the extent that opportunities in subnational governments structure the incentives of political entrepreneurs and encourage the formation of regional parties, for example (see Chhibber & Kollman 2004), party entry in Great Britain, a unitary state, ought to reflect different (at least moderated) incentive structures. Further, one might expect the importance of the presidency to structure American party formation incentives quite differently from the incentives of British political entrepreneurs, who can focus exclusively on the legislature. This chapter will show, however, that the early leaders of British Labour structured their decisions in ways that were similar to the decisions of political entrepreneurs in Canada and the US. They recognized opportunities for entry in districts where the composition of voters had changed dramatically, and in ways that favored low-income citizens. And, they crafted a platform that reflected the interests of these newly pivotal voters – although these voters were predominantly industrial workers, rather than agricultural. Finally, they entered those electoral contests in which low-income voters were likely to be pivotal, and especially where large numbers of migrants were concentrated.
The main contribution of this chapter, therefore, lies in the demonstration of the importance of changing electoral geography in the origins of parties that represent, primarily, the interests of industrial low-income voters. If cross-national variance in the quality of political responsiveness to poverty can be attributed to the historical dominance of left parties (the “Power Resources” account; see Huber & Stephens 2001), then understanding the implications of early electoral geography for the formation and entry of social democratic and labor parties is a crucial part of this explanation. Further evidence in support of this argument will be presented in Chapter 7, which examines the entry of the Swedish Social Democrats, as well as the implications of electoral reform. Here, I focus on the changing electoral geography of Britain between 1881 and 1906, and show how it is different from the electoral geography of the US in the same period, and Canada in the 1920s and 1930s, but that the political entrepreneurs – the “third-party men” – faced similar opportunities for the formation and entry of a new party.
This chapter is about how American electoral geography changed during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the US, and how these changes created electoral opportunities for political entrepreneurs. The analysis presented in the previous chapter focused our attention on a key period – 1880 to 1900 – when local population change in the US was substantial. Of course, demographic changes, resulting from both internal migration and immigration during this period, receive ample academic attention. The demographic changes that are considered here, however, are more specific than the well-documented trends of movement towards the frontier, and of immigration to the cities of the American Northeast. How do these patterns of migration and immigration affect the distribution of electoral power across income groups? Where are low-income voters pivotal in the election of Representatives, and how does this change during this period? Is there evidence that the Populists – the most significant third party in the US – saw opportunities in the changing distribution of electoral power, and entered those districts where the changes were most profound?
This chapter considers these questions, and explores the circumstances under which political entrepreneurs coordinate across districts to form a new party and enter electoral competition, or will work within existing party networks to achieve their office-seeking and policy-making goals. Here, as suggested in Chapter 3, demographic changes created the electoral opportunity: when (1) low-income voters became increasingly concentrated, through migration and immigration as well as local economic shocks, and (2) such that they were pivotal (i.e., decisive in elections, forming the numerical majority) in a substantial number of electoral districts, political entrepreneurs were incentivized to coordinate across districts, form a new party, and enter electoral competition.
To provide some justification for the rigorous empirical analysis presented towards the end of this chapter, the next two sections first draw on historical materials to describe the electoral context as it was seen by the leaders of the Populists, arguably the most successful party that has challenged the American two-party system and elected seats in the House of Representatives. As we shall see, the Populists took positions that reflected the interests of a national low-income constituency. Further, the decision to enter electoral contests occurred on a district-by-district basis, and party leaders were seen as “third-party men”.
The strategic entry of Sweden's Social Democrats offers a unique analytic perspective on how changing electoral geography creates new opportunities for political parties. While migration accounts for some of the changes in electoral geography that we observe in Sweden at the end of the nineteenth century, most of the changes in local distributions of electoral power resulted from the incorporation of newly eligible voters. As we shall see, although many of these new voters were long-term residents of their district, they were not part of local partisan or electoral networks until rapid economic growth increased their incomes above 800 kronor, the income level required for voter eligibility. The dramatic increase in newly available voters in some districts, especially in urban areas, created an important opportunity for the Swedish Social Democratic Party that is similar to the opportunities created by migration in the US, Canada, and the UK. Although the Social Democrats were formed in 1889, it was only after the dramatic changes in electoral geography that preceded the 1902 and especially the 1905 elections that the Social Democratic Party began to recruit candidates to compete in elections on its own label.
This chapter, like those that precede it, provides an overview of the political economy of Sweden during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Then, using historical census data and reports on typical wages during this period, this chapter maps the electoral geography of income and generates estimates of the changing size of the electorate for each electoral district. These estimates, along with official reports of the numbers of eligible voters, are used to identify electoral opportunities for the Social Democrats – and, indeed, the evidence suggests that Social Democrats were especially likely to enter electoral contests in those districts in which the number of newly available voters was comparatively large. Finally, this chapter will use the income profiles generated for each district to consider how the electoral reforms that followed shortly after the Social Democrats’ entry protected the quality of representation for low-income citizens in the long term. This last section sets the stage for the next chapter, which considers the implications of historical and contemporary electoral geography, in the US and abroad, for the political representation of low-income voters.
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