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Conquered or Granted? A History of Suffrage Extensions

by Adam Przeworski. Reading for Tuesday, 8 April 2008.

Why was franchise extended to the lower classes and to women? Was it conquered by the excluded groups, threatening that unless they were admitted as citizens they would reach for power by other, revolutionary, means? Or was it voluntarily granted by the incumbent elites? This question is examined statistically, using a new data set covering the entire world from the inception of representative institutions until now. The statistical results, as well as the explicit statements of the protagonists, strongly support the view that extensions along the lines of class were a response to revolutionary threats. Extensions to women, however, seem to have resulted from electoral considerations. The poorer classes fought their way into the representative institutions and, once admitted, they were organized by different political parties. In pursuit of their economic and social goals, these parties sought to enhance their electoral positions, treating the issue of female suffrage as an instrument of electoral competition.

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