NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Choosing Electoral Rules: Theory and Evidence from US Cities

Philippe Aghion, Alberto Alesina, Francesco Trebbi

NBER Working Paper No. 11236
Issued in April 2005
NBER Program(s):   PE   POL

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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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w11236

Published: 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.

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