Democracies do not legally bind parties to their policy promises. Thus winning the power to set policy through elections requires making credible commitments to pivotal voters. This paper analyzes theoretically and empirically how the commitment problem affects partisan conflict over redistribution. A theoretical model shows that under majoritarian electoral rules parties' efforts to achieve endogenous commitment using citizen candidates to policies preferred by the middle class leads to different behavior and outcomes than suggested by existing theories that assume commitment or rule out endogenous commitment. Left parties may respond to rising inequality by moving to the right in majoritarian systems but not under proportional representation. The theory also unbundles the anti-left bias attributed to majoritarian systems. The empirical analysis finds evidence for key implications of this logic using panel data on party positions and by analyzing devolution in Britain as a natural experiment to compare candidates under alternative electoral rules.
This talk is part of The Europe Center's "European Governance Seminar Series."
Michael Becher is assistant professor for Political Economy at the University of Konstanz in Germany. He received his PhD (2013) in Politics from Princeton University. His research focuses on comparative politics and political economy, with a special emphasis on redistributive conflict, political institutions, and democratic representation. Professor Becher's work has appeared or is forthcoming in academic journals such as American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Politics, and Comparative Political Studies.