The Origins of Democratic Institutions in Europe


Stanford University
  • Professor, Political Science
  • Senior Fellow, the Hoover Institution
Stanford University
  • Assistant Professor, Political Science
Carles Boix
Princeton University
Daniel Ziblatt
Harvard University

What explains the variation in the democratic institutions of contemporary European and North American societies?

The implications of electoral rules and legislative institutions for social and economic outcomes are well established.  For example, proportional electoral rules are associated with more extensive social policy in cross-country data sets, and within countries, the representation of regions in upper chambers of legislatures help explain fiscal flows.

Yet explanations linking institutions to social and economic outcomes are incomplete without an account of the historical origins of those institutions.  It is possible that institutions do not “cause” outcomes if these institutions are mere reflections of deeper, underlying patterns of political geography or interest group politics.  For instance, proportional representation may have been an institutional response to the presence of a strong, mobilized leftist movement in the early part of the 20th century.  

In order to shed light on this class of issues, we propose a workshop focused on a crucial period of institutional choice in Europe and North America beginning in the late 1800s and culminating in the immediate aftermath of World War I, and draw comparisons to contemporary questions about institutional choice in Eastern Europe.  Some of the central questions that will be addressed include:

  • Why did European party systems develop differently in different parts of Europe by the outbreak of World War I?
  • What explains the emergence of different electoral systems in Europe?  Here we address not only proportional representation versus majoritarian electoral rules, but a host of understudied but very consequential electoral features like geographic apportionment, the secret ballot, and the powers and make-up of upper legislative chambers. 
  • What explains the organizational forms and strategies of different political parties in different parts of Europe?         

Some of the papers will combine theory and applied empirical research from the late 19th century and early 20th century, perhaps with special focus on archetypical country cases including Scandinavian countries, Germany, France, and the United States.  We also hope to include papers addressing contemporary institutional choice in Central and Eastern Europe.