How do formal political institutions impact the quality of representation and citizen welfare? What role do they play in state-building and democratization? My dissertation 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.
Abstract: When do national politicians' preferences for local electoral institutions differ from their preferences for national-level institutions? In this chapter, I argue that national politicians who face opposition from a party with a strong local branch are less willing to introduce a party-centered local election system such as PR in the short run. This is because they care more about preserving electoral power at the national level than ensuring partisan control at the local level. To test this theory, I use voting records and biographical information of Norwegian parliamentarians around a local reform in 1896, a failed local reform in 1916, and a successful local reform in 1919.
Chapter 2: Mass Party Advantage under Party-Centered Local Governance
Abstract: Do local-level political institutions impact the balance of power in national elections? This paper argues that mass parties are more successful in national-level elections when party-centered electoral institutions are used at the local level. Mass parties rely on members and branches as their main electoral strategy, which means that using local institutions that support this approach yields better electoral results. To test this hypothesis, I take advantage of a local governance reform in early 20th century Sweden that made the type of local governance institutions used dependent on a population threshold. I find that municipalities that used elections and representatives for local governance had higher support for the Labor Party in national elections. This result demonstrates that local governance institutions can impact national-level politics significantly.
Chapter 3: Does Proportional Representation Increase Redistribution? Evidence from Early 20th Century Norwegian Municipalities. Revise and Resubmit, Electoral Studies.
Abstract: Countries that use proportional representation (PR) tend to have higher levels of redistribution. However, persuasive research on electoral system choice has demonstrated that countries only adopt PR under particular circumstances, such as the presence of a strong left-wing opposition or a need for coordination between opposing economic actors. We therefore ask if the strong relationship between the use of PR and redistribution is due to PR electoral rules or to these background factors. Taking advantage of an electoral reform to early 20th-century Norwegian local elections, we find that municipalities that were mandated to use PR increased tax rates and resources spent on the poor but also redistributed less in the first place. We further show that the reform did not increase left-wing party seat shares but did increase political mobilization. This evidence is consistent with moderate parties increasing redistribution in order to preempt left-wing party gains.