Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Margarita Estevez-Abe


electoral reforms, multimethod research, parliamentary democracies, party competition

Subject Categories

Social and Behavioral Sciences


This dissertation conceptualizes electoral reform process as having two distinctive stages: electoral reform initiation which concerns governing party preferences for an alternative system and reform enactment which involves legislative and constitutional processes through which the new electoral system is enacted. In doing so, it develops a framework to predict i) when and why ruling parties favor an alternative electoral system and ii) when and how they succeed in legislating their preferred electoral rule. This dissertation offers a novel account of governing party preferences that centers on the competition between largest parties in the election. Specifically, I argue that that the ruling party initiates an electoral reform depending on whether small or new parties draw votes from its vote base or from that of its main competitor in the election. To predict the success of electoral reform attempts, this dissertation focuses on the constitutional protection of electoral systems, legislative power of government and the content of electoral reform. I argue that these factors are important for the success of restrictive reform attempts since restrictive reform proposals may generate more opposition than permissive ones.

This dissertation employs an integrative multi-method approach conducting both quantitative and qualitative analyses of electoral reform attempts. The quantitative analysis utilizes an original dataset of electoral reform attempts in 32 parliamentary democracies for both stages of electoral reform. For analyzing the ruling party preferences, I generate a novel variable: the effective number of parties in ideological clusters to capture the number of small parties that draw votes away from the largest parties’ vote bases. After the statistical analyses of the hypothesized relationships, I conduct cases studies of electoral reform episodes selected from regression analyses. In particular, I examine electoral reform attempts in Lithuania and Turkey to explain party preferences and reform attempts in Latvia, Austria and Bulgaria to explain the enactment of reforms.

Findings support the main proportion of this dissertation that fragmentation in ideological clusters affects governing party’s reform initiation decision. When the governing party faces higher number of parties in its ideological cluster, it is more likely to initiate a restrictive reform to limit the number of parties that can enter the parliament. Since permissive reforms tend to increase the number of small parties in parliament, the governing party is more likely to initiate a permissive reform when it faces fewer parties in its ideological cluster than the main opposition party. This dissertation also finds that constitutional protection of electoral systems decreases the likelihood of success for restrictive reforms, but this relationship does not hold for permissive reforms. Moreover, restrictive reforms that change the district magnitude have lower chances of success in comparison to other electoral reforms. Overall, the findings suggest that the account of electoral reform developed in this dissertation captures reform process better than arguments already in the literature.


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