The Department of Government
The Department of Government

Comparative Speaker Series- Jose Cheibub (Texas A&M Univ)

"Dynamic Party System Fragmentation"

Mon, April 29, 2019 | BAT 5.108

12:00 PM - 2:00 PM

Abstract: The number of parties is a central attribute of a party system.  The literature seeking to account for why this number varies across countries or within a country over time focuses on (i) politico-institutional factors like federalism, resource centralization, electoral formula, district magnitude, and ballot structure, or (ii) the nature of voters’ underlying preferences, specially the emergence of new social cleavages that find expression in new political parties. In this paper we analyze a case of intense party system fragmentation in a context in which institutions and preferences remained constant. We analyze eight elections for the national and state-level legislative assemblies in Brazil. We show that in these elections a large number of candidates face an inordinate level of uncertainty and that migrating to increasingly small parties is a way to mitigate this uncertainty. The high level of party system fragmentation in Brazil is, therefore, produced by a combination of rules that induce legislators to seek assurances in smaller party organizations. Understanding what sets in motion the process of party fragmentation in Brazil is important for several reasons. First, it highlights the dynamic aspects of electoral institutions. Most explanations of party system fragmentation are static, in the sense that they identify the institutional feature that makes smaller parties possible, but not the reasons why, given this feature, politicians will prefer to compete under smaller party labels and not coordinate with others in creating a larger one. Second, it sheds light on the fact that electoral rules, often apparently innocuous details of these rules, combine to generate outcomes that are not the ones intended by those who created them. Finally, as an implication of the previous two points, it allows for a more precise evaluation of the institutions that organize electoral contexts.

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