The Adoption of Proportional Representation

48 Pages Posted: 17 May 2012 Last revised: 12 Mar 2013

See all articles by Lucas Leemann

Lucas Leemann

Department of Political Science

Isabela Mares

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: May 16, 2012


The debate between economic and political explanations of the adoption of proportional representation (PR) has occupied an important place in recent years. The existing tests of these competing explanations have generated inconclusive results. We re-examine this debate and argue that the causal mechanisms affecting politician’s decisions to reform the electoral system operate at different levels of analysis. Reformulating Rokkan’s hypotheses, we show that both partisan dissatisfaction with the translation of seats to votes and strong electoral competition at the level of the district affect the decisions of politicians to support changes in electoral institutions. In the empirical part, we evaluate the relative importance of (a) district level electoral competition and vulnerability to the rise of social democratic candidates (b) partisan calculations arising from disproportionalities in the allocation of votes to seats and (c) economic conditions at the district level, more specifically variation in skill profiles and ‘co-specific investments’ in explaining legislators’ support for the adoption of proportional representation.

Keywords: Proportional Representation, Electoral Systems, Imperial Germany, co-specific Assets, Democratization

JEL Classification: D72

Suggested Citation

Leemann, Lucas and Mares, Isabela, The Adoption of Proportional Representation (May 16, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Lucas Leemann

Department of Political Science ( email )

Gower Street
London, WC1E 6BT
United Kingdom

Isabela Mares (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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