Dividing the Rulers

How Majority Cycling Saves Democracy
Yuhui Li
The process of “cycling” divides majority coalitions and preserves democracy by preventing the “tyranny of the majority.”


The election of populist politicians in recent years seems to challenge the commitment to democracy, if not its ideal. This book argues that majority rule is not the problem; rather, the institutions that stabilize majorities are responsible for the suppression of minority interests. Despite the popular notion that social choice instability (or “cycling”) makes it impossible for majorities to make sound legislation, Yuhui Li argues that the best part of democracy is not the large number of people on the winning side; it is that the winners can be easily divided and realigned with the losers in the cycling process. He shows that minorities’ bargaining power depends on their ability to exploit division within the winning coalition and induce its members to defect, an institutionalized uncertainty that is missing in one-party authoritarian systems.

Dividing the Rulers theorizes why such division within the majority is important and what kind of institutional features can help a democratic system maintain such division, which is crucial in preventing the “tyranny of the majority.” These institutional solutions point to a direction of institutional reform that academics, politicians, and voters should collectively pursue.

“The key question—how to ensure that the losers of the electoral game are defended in a way that both protects their own interests and that of the broader political system—is a central one for scholars of democracy, especially those who focus on societies divided along ethnic, religious, linguistic, or similar cleavages."
​—Benjamin Reilly, University of Western Australia

“With the current concerns about populism, this book could not be more relevant. It shows how it is possible to defend minority rights within the parameters of majority rule. This book is a major advance on previous work in that it really considers the conditions under which this process can work in practice. It is vital to understanding how democracy works not only in ‘divided’ societies, but also in the supposedly homogenous countries that turn out to be far more divided than they thought.”
—Anthony McGann, University of Strathclyde

Yuhui Li earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Davis.

Product Details

  • 166 pages.
  • 11 tables, 1 map, 11 charts.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2019
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-12592-0

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  • Democracy; Majority rule; Electoral system; Social choice; Cycling; Distributive policy; Inequality; Representation; Cross-cutting cleavages; Voting experiment; Coalition bargaining; Tyranny of the majority; Party fragmentation; Presidency; Political institutions; Electoral reform; Divided societies; Ethnic identity; Identity politics; Winning coalition; Realignment; American exceptionalism; Legislature