To address concerns over the applicability of the electoral system literature to new and developing democracies, we present a framework for understanding the interplay between electoral rules and social, economic, and political context. This framework emphasizes that context typically shapes what we call the “behavioral” linkage between electoral rules and outcomes; moreover, the longer the causal chain connecting electoral rules to outcomes, the greater the number of opportunities for context to exert an effect. We then situate recent literature within this framework. Scholarship from a wide range of authors indicates many different ways in which contextual factors ultimately shape the number of parties. However, perhaps the most important contribution of this literature is to indicate how context conditions the behavioral incentives initially generated by electoral rules, thus promoting or undermining political actors' propensity to behave strategically.


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