Majoritarianism, Majoritarian Tension, and the Reed Revolution

48 Pages Posted: 25 Feb 2014 Last revised: 12 Nov 2014

See all articles by Keith Krehbiel

Keith Krehbiel

Stanford Graduate School of Business

Date Written: February 24, 2014


What fundamental forces account for procedural change in majoritarian voting institutions? I address this question by defining majoritarianism as a variable with two attributes: a numeric component that sets a threshold of assent among decision-makers, and a contextual component that defines the objects and stages of choice to which a given majority or supermajority threshold applies. Conceptualized as such, majoritarianism may be studied as a manipulable phenomenon that, in large part, defines the degree of consensus that a voting organization demands of itself in making decisions about rules, amendments, and law. Majoritarianism is often a central concern in institutional reforms that reallocate individual procedural rights to members. Majoritarian tension inevitably arises among decision-makers due to their simultaneous and conflicting desires for consensus (widespread endorsement of a decision), timeliness (rapid action), and wisdom (prudent, informed decision-making). Two broad empirical expectations based on the majoritarian-tension framework are assessed by revisiting of the extensively studied, so-called Reed Revolution in the late 19th Century House of Representatives. I suggest that this ostensibly critical event was both less significant and more bipartisan than any extant account suggests, and that my alternative interpretation is consistent with the fundamental forces of majoritarian tension.

Keywords: majoritarianism, majority voting, Congress, congressional reform, legislatures, rules, procedures

JEL Classification: D70, D72

Suggested Citation

Krehbiel, Keith, Majoritarianism, Majoritarian Tension, and the Reed Revolution (February 24, 2014). Stanford University Graduate School of Business Research Paper No. 14-06, Available at SSRN: or

Keith Krehbiel (Contact Author)

Stanford Graduate School of Business ( email )

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Stanford, CA 94305-5015
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