European Political Science Review just accepted our paper “When Dominant Parties Adopt Proportional Representation: The Mysterious Case of Belgium” (with André Walter). Here is the abstract:
As the first country to introduce proportional representation (PR), Belgium has attracted considerable attention. Yet, we find the existing explanations for the 1899 breakthrough lacking. At the time of reform, the Catholic Party was politically dominant, advantaged by the electoral system, and facing reformist Socialists. Nevertheless, they single-handedly changed the electoral system and lost 26 seats in the first election under PR.We argue that the Catholics had good reasons to adopt PR. Majoritarian rules tend to create high levels of uncertainty because they provide incentives for non-dominant parties to cooperate. Such electoral coalitions are facilitated by multidimensional policy spaces that make electoral coalitions other than between nonsocialist parties possible. PR reduces the effectiveness of cooperation between non-dominant parties, but such certainty comes at a price. In addition, in presence of dominant parties, divisions over electoral system reform often result in intra-party conflicts that may be more decisive than inter-party conflicts.