2004 William H. Riker Prize in Political Science

Awarded on April 2, 2004, to Gary W. Cox

Report of the 2004 Riker Prize Committee

The Award to Gary W. Cox

The 2004 Riker Prize Committee consisted of James Johnson (University of Rochester), chair; John Huber (Columbia University); and Robert Bates (Harvard University). They have awarded the third Riker Prize to Gary W. Cox, Professor of Political Science at the University of California, San Diego, for the creative way he combines formal theory and empirical - notably detailed historical - evidence in the comparative study of political institutions.

Gary Cox attended California Institute of Technology, graduating in 1978 with a Bachelor of Science with honors in History. He remained at Caltech for graduate work in the Division of Social Sciences, receiving his Ph.D. in 1982. Prior to joining the faculty at UCSD in 1987, Cox held teaching positions at the University of Texas and Washington University in St. Louis.

Cox has been a prodigious scholar, having published upwards of 50 articles in professional journals, another two dozen research notes and book chapters, and four books, three of which have won at least one major scholarly award. His research was funded nearly continuously by the NSF from 1982 through at least 2002. This is, by nearly any measure a remarkable record of accomplishment.

Gary Cox's work nevertheless and unexpectedly presented something of a problem in terms of composing this citation. The Riker award is not meant to recognize simply quantity of scholarly research. It is meant to be recognize specific contributions to the scientific study of politics. And give that Cox has been so extremely productive this meant singling out specific pieces of research that exemplify his contributions. The problem arises as soon as one recognizes that he has generated high quality research in several "genres." His dissertation and the resulting book are more or less explicitly historical; he has conducted systematic, theoretically informed empirical research; and he has made foundational contributions in positive political theory. Moreover his substantive empirical interests, while primarily "institutional," range comparatively over several continents. Consider just some of his paper titles:

  • "Non-Collegial Simple Games and the Nowhere Denseness of the Set of Preference Profiles Having a Core"
  • "Suffrage Expansion and Legislative Behavior in 19th Century Britain"
  • "The Electoral Fortunes of Legislative Factions in Japan"
  • "Is the Single Transferable Vote Super-Proportional?"
  • "On the Decline of Party Voting in Congress"
  • "Latin America's Reactive Assemblies and Proactive Presidents"
  • "Agenda Power in Brazil's Camara dos Deputados, 1989-1998"

Fortunately, even among this diversity of research styles and substantive topics three pieces of Cox's research stood out.

Works Specifically Cited for This Award

  • Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems (Cambridge University Press, 1997).

    This book, which won the 1998 Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award for the best book in political science published in the preceding year, perhaps most clearly suggests the intellectual affinities of Gary Cox and Bill Riker. In this book Cox explores Duverger's Law - one of the very few robust empirical generalizations political scientists have managed to identify. But like Bill Riker, Cox is dissatisfied with just an observed regularity and he goes on to (1) examine in detail the sorts of institutional mechanisms that sustain the regularity and (2) identify the conditions under which those mechanisms, in fact, operate. In other words, in this book, Gary aims to establish how we actually "know" what heretofore we could merely "see."

  • "Electoral Equilibrium under Alternative Voting Institutions," American Journal of Political Science 31:82-108 (1987).
  • "Centripetal and Centrifugal Incentives in Electoral Systems," American Journal of Political Science 34:903-35 (1990).

    In this pair of papers Cox explores the impact of various electoral institutions on the nature of electoral competition, specifically on the policy positions that political parties and/or their candidates adopt. While the work on Duverger's Law is largely an effort to examine the theoretical structure of an empirical regularity, these papers are primarily theoretical. They examine the broadly Downsian framework of spatial electoral competition. Again they aim to establish what it would mean to say that we "know" that parties and candidates pitch their policy stances the center of the electorate. This, not surprisingly, turns out to be sensitive to institutional features. And Cox sorts in fine detail the incentives that different institutional arrangements present to parties and candidates.

  • The Efficient Secret: The Cabinet and the Development of Political Parties in Victorian England (Cambridge UP, 1987).

    Those of you familiar with the Rochester Department will know that we have had several past faculty and now have two valued colleagues - Jeff Banks, Randy Calvert, John Duggan and Mark Fey - who did graduate work in Social Sciences at Caltech. This no doubt establishes specific "priors" about the sort of research we can expect from Caltech types. This book is the product of a CalTech PhD thesis! It is primarily historical and takes it title from a phrase of Walter Bagehot in the The English Constitution. According to Bagehot, the English had "made, or rather stumbled upon" a combination of political institutions that combined "dignified" and "efficient" aspects. Here he has in mind the Monarchy and the Cabinet System respectively.

    In this book Cox addresses an empirical problem - how did the English "stumble" onto this amalgam of dignified and efficient institutions? More especially how did the cabinet system emerge as the unintended by-product of electoral politics in the wake of the First Reform Act? And finally what were the consequences of fusing legislative and executive operations in the cabinet for voting behavior both for MPs and for the general electorate in the constituencies?

    It will we hope be clear to those who knew or have read Bill Riker that he would appreciate the range of interests and command of various styles of research evidenced here. On a more contemporary note, Political Science as a discipline is today beset by critics who complain that it is insufficiently pluralist and that this is due to a commitment to rigorous scientific research. In the estimation of the 2004 Riker Committee Gary Cox stands as a strong counterexample to that indictment.