Dividing the Rulers

How Majority Cycling Saves Democracy
Yuhui Li


The election of populist politicians in recent years seems to challenge the very idea of democracy. This book argues that majority rule is not to blame; rather, the institutions that stabilize majorities are responsible for the seeming suppression of minority interests. Despite the popular notion that social choice instability (or “cycling”) makes it impossible for majorities to make optimal decisions, Yuhui Li argues that the best part of democracy is not the large number of people on the winning side, but that the winners can be easily divided and realigned with 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

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

Product Details

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

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

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  • $65.00 U.S.



  • 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