Building States and Parties: The Logic of Local Electoral Reforms

How do formal political institutions impact the quality of representation and citizen welfare? What role do they play in state-building and democratization? My book project turns to early-twentieth-century Europe, and Scandinavia in particular, to answer these questions. There, national politicians reformed the electoral systems used at the local level but rolled out those reforms unevenly across local governments. I posit that national-level politicians chose reforms that would preserve competency and decision-making power at the local level, while also empowering local actors connected to national-level parties. The conclusion is that national parties were able to extend their reach into the periphery, with profound consequences for mobilization and redistribution. I draw on a wealth of historical data collected from archives, as well as quasi-experimental techniques for causal inference, to test this theory. My project highlights the importance of local governance institutions in creating national polities and explains how reforms to one level of politics can have dramatic effects on another. It also highlights the usefulness of historical political economy to contemporary comparative politics.