Oslo Summer School in Comparative Social Science Studies 1997

The Politics of Electoral Coordination

Main Discipline: Political Science
Lecturer: Professor Gary W. Cox
Institution: University of California at San Diego, USA
Dates: 28 July - 1 August, 1997

Modern representative democracy presents at its core a series of coordination problems that arise as natural consequences of electoral competition for governmental offices. A group with enough votes to elect some number of candidates in a given (legislative or executive) race will in fact elect that number only if it can make its votes count by concentrating them appropriately. One way to avoid spreading votes too thinly is to limit the number of candidates. But which potential candidates, representing what shades of opinion, will withdraw in favor of which others? If attempts to limit the number of candidates fail, another chance to make votes count arises on polling day, when voters can concentrate their votes on a subset of the available candidates. But which candidates will bear the brunt of strategic voting and which will be its beneficiaries?

This course will investigate strategic coordination broadly conceived, covering both legislative and executive elections, both strategic entry and strategic voting. It investigates both the consequences of strategic coordination and those structural features that determine the nature of the coordination problems that political actors face in differing polities. After defining what coordination games are in general and how they arise in elections, we will discuss the differing kinds of electoral systems in use worldwide and the differing coordination problems that they pose. Then we will investigate strategic voting and entry at the legislative or local constituency level (lectures 4-6) and at the executive or national level (lectures 7-9). In each case, we consider not only the possibility of successful coordination but also the (relatively neglected) possibility of failure to coordinate. Successful coordination links to such traditional topics in electoral studies as Duverger's Law, unsuccessful coordination to such topics as dominant party systems and realignment.

Teaching will primarily take the form of traditional lectures, though there will also be opportunities for discussion. There are no specific requirements for admission to the course, although knowledge of the literature on electoral systems and their political effects will be helpful.

Basic readings

The lecturer
Gary W. Cox (Ph.D. California Institute of Technology, 1983) is Professor of Political Science at the University of California at San Diego, Department of Political Science. In addition to numerous articles on electoral and legislative politics, he is the author of The Efficient Secret, a study of the development of political institutions in Victorian England, co-author of Legislative Leviathan, a study of parties in the postwar U.S. House, and author of Making Votes Count, a study of strategic coordination in the world's electoral systems. He is currently on the Board of Overseers to the National Election Studies, held a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995-96 and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1996.