Featured Faculty Research: Jonathan Rodden

Jonathan Rodden imageJonathan Rodden started his academic career at MIT, and joined the Stanford political science faculty in 2007. In 2012, he founded the Stanford Spatial Social Science Lab, which is a center for research and teaching dedicated to the use of geo-spatial data in the social sciences. Jonathan’s recent work focuses on the geography of economic production and political competition, especially in industrialized societies. He has written a number of journal articles examining the spatial arrangement of voting behavior in Europe, North America, and Australasia since the industrial revolution. He has also written a series of related papers on redistricting and partisan gerrymandering.

Jonathan is currently completing a book manuscript, tentatively titled Why Cities Lose, which is scheduled for publication by Basic Books in early 2019. He argues that ever since the rise of manufacturing in the late 19th century and the accompanying construction of dense working-class housing, the support base of left parties has been primarily urban. Over time, these parties came to adopt a variety of additional policy platforms having less to do with the rights of manufacturing workers, and more to do with the interests of urban groups including social progressives and more recently, educated workers in knowledge-intensive industries. Along the way, urban-rural political polarization has grown, not just in the United States but also in countries like the United Kingdom and Canada.

As a result of this process, Rodden shows that votes for left parties have become highly concentrated in city centers, while votes for right parties are more evenly distributed in space. Rodden explains that when winner-take-all electoral districts are drawn, as in Britain and its former colonies, this geography leads to a substantial advantage for parties of the right in achieving legislative representation. He demonstrates that urban-rural polarization—and a bias against urban parties—is less likely to emerge in multi-party systems like those of Continental Europe. His book concludes by exploring implications for policy, as well as for debates about redistricting and electoral reform.

Jonathan has also been working for two decades on a set of issues related to political and fiscal federalism. While some of his ongoing work focuses on fiscal decentralization in developing countries, he has also been involved in debates about the European debt crisis and reforms to the Eurozone, and recently presented the Pierre Werner Chair lecture at the European University Institute in Florence as part of a project called “A Dynamic Economic and Monetary Union” (ADEMU). In this lecture and an accompanying policy paper written for the European Parliament, Rodden extracts broad lessons from other federations, including the United States and Canada, for some of the design challenges facing the European Monetary Union.