Ongoing research and working papers

Electoral intimidation (with Boliang Zhu), forthcoming The Journal of Comparative Politics

This paper presents an account of the conditions under which politicians and their electoral agents engage in the supply of electoral intimidation which seeks to affect the choices made by voters at the ballot box. We characterize the political factors that impinge on the decisions of political candidates to draw electoral support from state employees and private actors and the factors that affect the decisions of the latter to engage in the production of electoral intimidation. Empirically, our paper examines the political and economic determinants of electoral irregularities in German elections during the period between 1870 and 1912. Consistent with our theoretical argument, we find that high electoral fragmentation among right wing parties constrains the occurrence of electoral intimidation. The most salient economic variables that affect the decisions of private actors to supply electoral intimidation is the occupational heterogeneity of a district. By contrast, other economic conditions in a district, such as the skill profile of the labor force, have no effect on the incidence of electoral intimidation.

Rural inequality, labor mobility and democratic reforms (with Martin Ardanaz), 2015. Comparative Political Studies. 

A large body of scholarship has asserted that inequalities in the distribution of fixed assets act as a barrier to democratic transitions. This paper proposes a theoretical and empirical amendment of this finding, by arguing that employment conditions in the countryside, rather than inequalities in the distribution of fixed assets affected electoral outcomes in societies characterized by high levels of rural inequality. Using empirical evidence from the Prussian districts of Imperial Germany during the period between 1871 and 1912, we show that relative labor market shortages of agricultural workers affected electoral outcomes under conditions of an imperfect protection of electoral secrecy. Shortages of agricultural workers both reduced the electoral strength of conservative politicians and increased the willingness of rural voters to ‘take electoral risks’ and vote for the opposition Social Democratic Party. Labor shortages also affect preferences of individual legislators over the reform of electoral institutions. We find that politicians in districts experiencing high levels of labor shortage and higher costs of electoral intimidation are more willing to support changes in electoral rules that increase the protection of electoral secrecy. In theoretical terms, our findings contribute to the literature linking rural inequality and democratization, by demonstrating the importance of labor scarcity as a source of political cleavages over electoral reforms.

The origin of proportional representation (with Lucas Leemann), 2014. The Journal of Politics. 76(2): 461-478

The debate between economic and political explanations of the adoption of proportional representation (PR) has occupied an important place in recent years. The existing tests of these competing explanations have generated inconclusive results. We re-examine this debate and argue that the causal mechanisms affecting politician’s decisions to reform the electoral system operate at different levels of analysis. Reformulating Rokkan’s hypotheses, we show that both partisan dissatisfaction with the translation of seats to votes and strong electoral competition at the level of the district affect the decisions of politicians to support changes in electoral institutions. In the empirical part, we evaluate the relative importance of (a) district level electoral competition and vulnerability to the rise of social democratic candidates (b) partisan calculations arising from disproportionalities in the allocation of votes to seats and (c) economic conditions at the district level, more specifically variation in skill profiles and ‘co-specific investments’ in explaining legislators’ support for the adoption of proportional representation.