Gandhi, Jennifer and Abigail L. Heller. 2018. "Electoral Systems in Authoritarian States." In The Oxford Handbook of Electoral Systems, Erik S. Herron, Robert J. Pekkanen, and Matthew Soberg Shugart (eds.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The online edition of the chapter may be found here (this page requires a login, but the chapter may be accessed via the Oxford Handbooks website through most university libraries for free).

Abstract:  The literature on the choice and effects of electoral rules in autocracies tends to focus on the preferences of the dictator. While sensible, it is important to recognize that even the most powerful autocrats choose rules under constraints. The constraints may come in the form of opposition actors who threaten the regime or the dictator’s own limited information or knowledge about how the rules work and the distribution of preferences among the electorate. The uncertainty over voter preferences is a particularly acute problem for autocracies where coercion and manipulation are rampant, and the expression of sincere preferences through media and electoral polls is limited. These tactics enable autocrats to win elections, but may condition the effects of electoral rules, making the choice of rules difficult in the first place. The end result may be that the problem of electoral choice is more difficult for autocrats even if they face fewer formal institutional constraints than their democratic counterparts.

Heller, Abigail L. 2012. "Duverger's Law and the Case of Great Britain." Journal of Undergraduate International Studies. 13: 10-22. 

Abstract: In the 1950's Maurice Duverger formulated what has become known as Duverger's Law. Widely accepted and taught, it states that plurality electoral systems favor two-party systems. However, exceptions or challenges to the law have been noted. One such challenge is the case of Britain, particularly following the 2010 General Elections that resulted in a hung parliament. I explore whether Britain may be seen as adhering to Duverger's Law at the national or constituency levels. After determining that Britain presents a serious challenge to Duverger, I investigate why Britain is an exception. 

Working Papers

Gandhi, Jennifer, Abigail L. Heller, and Ora John Reuter. "Shoring up Power: Strengthening Regime Parties via Electoral Reform." (under review)

Abstract:  Why do autocrats adopt proportional representation (PR)? Conventional wisdom suggests autocrats should prefer majoritarian electoral rules because they favor large parties. Yet, since 1945, autocrats have been almost three times more likely to institute reforms towards PR than majoritarianism. Existing literature suggests incumbents institute PR to divide the opposition. We explore another motivation: executives switch to PR to ensure discipline among allies. We argue that such reforms are most likely when autocrats have a particular need to impose discipline — when elites are strong and/or when ruling parties are nascent. Empirically, we examine the conditions under which changes to PR are likely with cross-national data from all electoral autocracies between 1945 and 2012. Additionally, we investigate a prominent case — the 2005 switch to PR in Russia — to illustrate the mechanisms and show how the reform solved the problem of control, allowing the Kremlin to focus on selecting electorally strong candidates.

Heller, Abigail L. "The Battle over Gerrymandered Districts: How Americans Balance Fairness & Partisanship."

Abstract: To what extent do individuals value fair elections versus those that deliver their preferred partisan and policy outcomes? How do American residents balance their preferences about fair elections with their potentially competing preferences over election outcomes? How robust are people’s preferences for democratic elections? These questions are critical because citizens are supposed to be the defenders of democracy and a defense against democratic backsliding. I explore these questions using a survey experiment of over 2,100 American residents. Using conjoint analysis, I find that concerns about fairness affect the willingness of respondents to support redistricting proposals, but that the effects are conditional on partisan identification and the strength of respondents’ partisanship

Heller, Abigail L. "More Than Seat Maximization: The Role of Credit Claiming & Corruption in Electoral Reform."

Abstract: Why would a governing political party change the electoral system that allowed it to obtain power? The prevailing theory suggests parties will enact electoral reform when they believe doing so will increase their legislative seat share. However, this only implicitly incorporates voters who hold parties accountable in elections. Voters care about obtaining preferred policies and reducing corruption, which presents parties with conflicting incentives: they care about seat share and obtaining benefits from corruption, but also want to claim credit with voters for reducing corruption. I develop a formal model of electoral reform to explore this strategic interaction. It demonstrates parties propose reform when they can claim sufficient credit for doing so to offset losses from reduced opportunities for corruption. The model accounts for puzzling empirical patterns such as the prevalence of failed electoral reform proposals and prominent cases in which seat maximization was not the primary motivation for proposals. Case studies of the United Kingdom, Italy, and Japan provide support for the formal model. 

Work in Progress

Heller, Abigail L. "Public Support for Electoral Reform: The Role of Electoral System Experience."

Heller, Abigail L. "Legislating Themselves Out of Office: Electoral Reform & Parties as Non-Unitary Actors."