Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 2018

Elections and Democracy

This course was cancelled.

Professor José Antonio Cheibub, Department of Political Science, Texas A&M University, USA

Course dates: 30 July - 3 August 2018

Main discipline: Political Science

Course Credits: 10 pts (ECTS)
Limitation: 25 participants


Course objectives / learning outcome
Representative government presupposes elections. It is through periodic competitive elections that the ideal of collective self-rule would, if ever, become realized: elections would aggregate voters’ preferences and reveal the general will; they would embody the highly valued principle of political equality in public decision-making (one person, one vote); they would induce politicians to act in the interest of voters; and they would allow voters to hold politicians accountable. In sum, it is through elections that governments would become from the people, by the people, for the people. But, how successful are elections in bringing these goals about?

It is no surprise that the world is full of representative governments where “failures of representation” abound. The question is not whether such failures exist, but how they manifest themselves and whether they are inherent to representative governments. More importantly, if we accept that elections are far from bringing about governments “from the people, by the people, for the people,” what do they do? Can we justify a system based on competitive elections as better than other systems even if the expectations about what they should bring about are rarely, if ever, fulfilled in the real world? What is the purpose of elections if they do not enable the people’s self-rule? Why would even dictators want to allow elections to happen? This is the question that will guide us in this course. We will address it in three parts.

First, we will characterize the “classical” view of representative government. This is the view summarized in the previous paragraph, and which has been the base of what we could call the ideology of democracy.

Second, in what constitutes the bulk of the course, we will examine what political science has taught us about the realization of five of the implications of elections: aggregation of preferences, responsible government, accountability, legislatures (the locus of representation), and political equality. We will use contemporary research that addresses each of these themes, focusing not only on what they say, but how they come to be able to say what they do.

Finally, having shown the limitations of representative government and the impossibility of their goals, we ask: what is left? Do the failures of elections to generate the classic form of representative government imply that elections are useless? How can we justify a political system based on competitive elections if these elections fail to materialize popular self-rule? We will see that the fact that the classical view of representative government is not realistic inexorably lead us to abandon competitive elections as the main instrument of governance. We need, however, to begin to think about elections and self-rule in a different way.

Students must write a 6,000 to 10,000 word essay within eight weeks after the course to receive a course certificate and earn credit for a PhD program. Students who fulfill this requirement with a passing grade will receive 10 points in their PhD account in the ECTS system.


Lecture 1: Election and Representative Government.
What is the classical view of representative government? What are elections mean to accomplish in these governments? Relationship between elections and aggregation of preferences, representation, accountability.


  • Schumpeter, Joseph A. 1975 [1942]. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. New York: Harper Colophon. pp.250-268.
  • Manin, Bernard. 1997. The Principles of Representative Government. New York: Cambridge University Press. Chapter 4, pp. 132-160.
  • Przeworski, Adam. 1999. “Minimalist Conception of Democracy: A Defense” in Ian Shapiro and Casiano Hacker-Cordón, eds., Democracy’s Value, pp.23-55. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lecture 2: Transforming Votes into Power.
Components of elections and the rules for organizing them. Main distinctions, terminology. How do electoral rules affect outcomes? Which rules? Which outcomes?


  • Golder, Matt. 2005. “Democratic Electoral Systems Around the World, 1946–2000.” Electoral Studies 24 (1): 103-121.
  • Powell, Jr., G. Bingham. 2006. " Election Laws and Representative Governments: Beyond Votes and Seat." British Journal of Political Science, vol. 36, pp.291-315.
  • Blais, André and Louis Massicotte. 2002. “Electoral Systems” in Lawrence LeDuc, Richard G. Niemi, and Pippa Norris, eds. Comparing Democracies 2. London: Sage. Pp. 40 – 69.
  • Kedar, Orit, Liran Harsgor, and Raz. A. Sheinerman. 2016. “Are Voters Equal under Proportional Representation?” American Journal of Political Science 60 (3): 676-691.

Lecture 3: Endogenous Election: Why Do Dictators Hold Elections?
Elections are intrinsically connected with representative government. Yet, they frequently happen in authoritarian governments. Why do they happen? Do they have consequences?


  • Gandhi, Jennifer and Adam Przeworski. 2007. “Authoritarian Institutions and the Survival of Autocrats.” Comparative Political Studies, vol. 40, no. 11, pp. 1279-1301.
  • Blaydes, Lisa. Elections and Distributive Politics in Mubarak’s Egypt. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press. Pp. 48-76.

Lecture 4: Stealing Elections.
Many authoritarian leaders hold elections but try to manipulate the results in their favor. How do they do that? What are the consequences for democratization? Are the incentives for dictators to manipulate electoral outcomes different from those that exist for incumbents in general?


  • Przeworski, Adam. 2016. What Can We Expect of Elections. New York: New York University, manuscript. Pp. 1-50.
  • Simpser, Alberto. 2013. Why Governments and Parties Manipulate Elections: Theory, Practice and Implications.
  • Svolik, Milan and Ashlea Rundlett. 2016. “Deliver the Vote! Micromotives and Macrobehavior in Electoral Fraud.” American Political Science Review 110 (1): 180-197.

Lecture 5: Electoral coordination.
What is electoral coordination? How do voters, parties and campaign donors coordinate with one another? Is coordination easier under different rules? What does it mean to coordinate when seats are allocated proportionally to votes?


  • Cox, Gary W. 1997. Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World’s Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp.69-98.
  • Cox, Gary W. 1999. “Electoral Rules and Electoral Coordination.” Annual Review of Political Science 2: 145-161.
  • Chhibber, Pradeep and Ken Kollman. 2004. The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India and the United States. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Pp. 61-80, 101-179.
  • Crisp, Brian F., Santiago Olivella, and Joshua D. Potter. 2012. “Electoral Contexts That Impede Voter Coordination.” Electoral Studies 31 (1): 143-58, March.

Lecture 6: How Competitive Is an Election?
Competitiveness is seen as a positive attribute of an election. But what exactly is it? How do we think about electoral competitiveness in different electoral systems? How do we measure degree of competitiveness? Why is competitiveness important and what makes it vary from one election to another?


  • Kayser, Mark Andreas and René Lindstädt. 2015. “A Cross-National Measure of Electoral Competitiveness.” Political Analysis 23 (2): 242-253.
  • Fowler, Anthony and Andrew B. Hall. 2017. “Long-Term Consequences of Election Results.” British Journal of Political Science 47 (2): 351–372.
  • Gordon, Sanford C. and Gregory Huber. 2007. “The Effect of Electoral Competitiveness on Incumbent Behavior.” Quarterly Journal of Political Science 2 (2): 107-138.
  • Prichard, Wilson. 2016. “Electoral Competitiveness, Tax Bargaining and Political Incentives in Developing Countries: Evidence from Political Budget Cycles Affecting Taxation.” British Journal of Political Science, First View Online.

Lecture 7: Elections and Violence.
Are elections conducive to violence? If so, under what conditions? Is it the case that transitional dictatorships would be better off delaying elections until institutions are “ripe?” What does this mean?


  • Rabushka, Alvin and Kenneth A. Shepsle. 1972. Politics in Plural Societies: A Theory of Democratic Instability. Columbus, Ohio: Merrill. pp. 62-92.
  • Toha, Risa. 2017. “Political Competition and Ethnic Riots in Democratic Transition: A Lesson from Indonesia.” British Journal of Political Science 47 (3): 631-651.
  • Cheibub, José Antonio and Jude Hays. 2017. “Elections and Civil War in Africa.” Political Science Research and Methods 5 (1): 81-102.

Lecture 8: Elections and Economic Outcomes.
How do institutions of representation affect the distribution of resources in a given political unit? Does malapportionment matter for what different regions of a country get? What exactly is the mechanism that links distortions in representation and distortions in distributive outcomes?


  • Ansolabehere, Stephen; Gerber, Alan; Snyder, James (2002). "Equal Votes, Equal Money: Court- Ordered Redistricting and Public Expenditures in the American States." American Political Science Review, 96 (4): 767-777.
  • Cheibub, José Antonio and Samira Kauchakje. 2017. “Malapportionment and Legislative Bargaining: The Impact of District Magnitude.” Manuscript, Texas A&M University.
  • Helland, Leif and Rune J. Sørensen. 2009. “Geographical Redistribution with Disproportional Representation: A Politico-economic Model of Norwegian Road Projects. Public Choice 139 (1-2): 5-19.
  • Horiuchi, Yusaku and Jun Saito (2003). "Reapportionment and Redistribution: Consequences of Electoral Reform in Japan." American Journal of Political Science, 47 (4): 669-682.

Lecture 9: Elections and Political Parties?
Parties and elections are supposed to go together. Do they? If they do, is there a specific type of party that should be more appropriate? If there is an optimal type of party, what is it? How do we think about the different parties we observe across countries?


  • Manin, Bernard. 1997. The Principles of Representative Government. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 193-235.
  • Kellam, Marisa. 2013. “Suffrage Extensions and Voting Patterns in Latin America: Is Mobilization a Source of Decay?” Latin American Politics and Society 55 (4): 23-46.
  • Cheibub, José Antonio and Gisela Sin. 2017. “Intraparty Competition and Open-List PR Elections: What Can We Learn from an Extremely Permissive System?” Manuscript, Texas A&M University.

Lecture 10: Elections as a Mechanism for Peaceful Alternation in Power.
Can we justify elections in the absence of the traditional benefits they are supposed to bring about? If elections do not make governments act in the interest of voters, do not allow voters to hold governments accountable, equality the distribution of economic resources, what do they do? Why should we care about them?


  • Przeworski, Adam. 2015. “Acquiring the Habit of Changing Governments Through Elections.” Comparative Political Studies 48 (1): 101 – 129.
  • Przeworski, Adam. 2011. “Divided We Stand? Democracy as a Method of Processing Conflicts.” Scandinavian Political Studies 34 (2): 168 – 182.

The lecturer
José Antonio Cheibub is Professor of Political Science and the Mary Thomas Marshall Professor in Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. His research and teaching interests are in comparative politics, with a focus on the emergence and effects of democratic regimes and specific democratic institutions.

He is the author, co-author or co-editor of Parliaments and Government Formation: Unpacking Investiture Rules (Oxford, 2015). Presidentialism, Parliamentarism, and Democracy (Cambridge, 2007), the Democracy Sourcebook (MIT, 2003) and Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well-Being in the World, 1950-1990 (Cambridge, 2000). The latter received the 2001 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award given by the American Political Science Association for the best book published in the United Stated on government, politics or international affairs.

He has published in several edited volumes and in journals such as the American Political Science Review, World Politics, British Journal of Political Science, Political Science Research and Methods, Comparative Political Studies, Public Choice, Politics and Society, Journal of Democracy, Constitutional Political Economy, and Studies in Comparative International Development.

Tags: Political Science, Democracy, Elections, Summer School, PhD
Published Aug. 16, 2017 10:08 AM - Last modified Aug. 30, 2018 9:01 AM