Institutional Change as Strategy: The Role of Decentralization in Party Competition
43 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 27 Sep 2009
Date Written: 2009
Why do governing parties voluntarily transfer significant political and/or fiscal powers to subnational authorities? Contributing to the literature on the origins of institutions, this paper views decentralization as an electoral strategy. Unlike existing strategic explanations, however, I argue that decentralization is a means to bolster a governing party’s national-level electoral strength. It is a tool, akin to policy appeasement, used to co-opt pro-decentralization regionalist party voters. By conceiving of decentralization in this manner, we can understand why parties propose devolution reforms that would sabotage their control of the newly created subnational bodies. Because the costs of this institutional strategy are disproportionately concentrated at the subnational level, the policy will only be adopted and implemented by centralized parties that prioritize national-level power. I examine the power of the institutional appeasement theory by analyzing intranational variation in the degree and timing of decentralizing reforms across the regions of Great Britain.
Keywords: decentralization, political party, strategy, regionalist party, Great Britain
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