Using Mixed Methods to Recover Electoral History: The American Path to Proportional Voting


This case reflects on research into a topic for which there were little extant theory and data: the adoption of proportional voting in American cities, known to us as “multi-winner ranked-choice voting.” The research process was far from linear. Work began as a frantic search for available information. Later, as facts supported my initial hunch, the research took on a more disciplined design. Using whatever information I could find, I was able to state and test the observable implications of a descriptive hypothesis: coalitions to adopt proportional voting included minority parties and ruling-party defectors. Looking back on this project, at whose start I had little information, three big lessons might be as follows: (1) start with a strong theory of politics; (2) treat research as a collaborative process, even when the work is your own; and (3) never give up if you really want the answer.

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