Department of Political Science

Awarded on April 19, 2002, to Norman J. Schofield

The Award to Norman J. Schofield

The 2002 Riker Prize Committee consisted of James Johnson (University of Rochester), chair; David Rohde (Michigan State University); and Kenneth Shepsle (Harvard University). They have awarded the second Riker Prize to Norman J. Schofield, the William Taussig Professor of Political Economy at Washington University, St. Louis for his path-breaking contributions to the theory of collective choice in multidimensional settings, the extension of those results to the analysis of coalition politics in parliamentary systems, and, subsequently, to the analysis of American constitutional politics.

We think it especially appropriate that Norman Schofield be awarded the William H. Riker Prize in Political Science. Schofield regularly and publicly acknowledges his debt, both intellectual and personal, to Bill Riker. In a recent review essay, Schofield rightly characterizes Riker as having "pursued the rational choice model in order to answer substantive and profound questions of democratic theory." The same, indeed, can be said of Schofield himself. And it is clear that his research on political indeterminacy and instability exerted considerable influence not only on the emergent field of positive political theory but on Bill Riker in particular.

Norman Schofield attended Liverpool University, graduating first with a Bachelor of Science (with distinction) in physics in 1965 and then with an honors Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1966. He attended graduate school at Essex University earning two doctorates - the first in Government (1976), the second in Economics (1985). He has received honorary doctoral degrees from Liverpool (1986) and the Universite de Caen (1991). Prior to his current position at Washington University, Schofield held teaching posts and fellowships at Essex, Yale, Texas, Manchester, California Institute of Technology, and the Center for Advanced Study at Stanford. He has been prolific, having written five books, edited another five, and published roughly ninety papers in books and professional journals. And that does not count work in progress!

We do not, of course, assess intellectual contributions in terms of sheer volume. In addition to his enviable productivity Norman Schofield has had a singular impact on the discipline of political science. He exemplifies the sort of political scientist Bill Riker envisioned. Schofield is perhaps best known for his fundamental work in "pure" theory where he demonstrated the generic instability of political processes. He has developed that early work not just theoretically but also through extremely imaginative use of his theoretical insights in sustained empirical analyses of political coalitions and constitutional politics. So not only is Norman Schofield preoccupied with substantive topics that were of abiding interest to Bill Riker, he approaches those topics with just the combination of theoretical insight and empirical discernment that Bill himself deployed. And, in so doing, he displays the same disregard as did Riker for what has become the conventional division of labor in the discipline. All of that said, it will be clear to those familiar with Bill Riker's work that the intellectual influence we observe here was genuinely reciprocal. For the understanding that political decision-making is fraught with indeterminacy - an understanding that Norman Schofield's theoretical findings rendered both general and precise - provided a crucial impetus for Riker's own explorations of political institutions, of competing normative interpretations of democracy, of the art of political manipulation, and of political rhetoric.

Works Specifically Cited for This Award

  • "Instability of Simple Dynamic Games," The Review of Economic Studies 45:575-594 (1978).

    In this seminal paper (published contemporaneously with research by Richard McKelvey) Norman Schofield establishes that, absent a dictator or similar agent with veto capability, any process of preference aggregation can produce "chaotic" results in the sense that from any point in a "policy space" voting can generate cycles that can fill the entire space. These findings have proven enormously influential. It is no exaggeration to say, for example, that what now commonly are referred to as the McKelvey-Schofield results provide the theoretical base-line for the bulk of the subsequent rational choice literature on political institutions. Since in principle "anything can happen," what we want to know is why we observe the patterns that we do rather than some others. And that typically is a matter of identifying and characterizing relevant institutional constraints.

  • (With Michael Laver) Multiparty Government: The Politics of Coalition in Europe. Oxford University Press. 1991.

    Starting from the mid 1970s Schofield also has worked extensively on the analysis of coalition politics in multi-party political systems. In particular he is concerned to extend earlier work on coalition formation that had either focused on constant-sum voting games or restricted analysis to a single dimension. In his volume with Laver, Schofield aims explicitly to establish sustained contact between two traditions of inquiry - one primarily empirical and inductive, the other game theoretic - into coalition politics. To that end Laver and Schofield extend the spatial theory of electoral competition as the basis for a unified theory of the formation, duration, and breakdown of political coalitions in which parties pursue both policy goals and cabinet portfolios. Their theory demonstrates why, contrary to expectations, we regularly observe both larger than minimal governing coalitions and minority governments.

  • "Political Competition and Multiparty Coalition Governments," European Journal of Political Research 23:1-33 (1993).

    In this paper Schofield lays the basis for a formal theory of multi-party coalition politics that can account for both electoral competition and post-election bargaining among policy oriented parties. His analysis builds creatively on ongoing research by empirical scholars on party manifestos as a way to locate parties in a multidimensional electoral space. Schofield first analyses the calculus that parties would adopt during the electoral process to decide which policy positions to announce to the voting public and to competing parties. The problem is that each party must anticipate how any such policy announcement will impact both its electoral prospects and the contingencies of post-election bargaining. He subsequently constructs a game theoretic model and identifies the conditions under which the particular pre-election policy announcements by parties, and therefore the outcomes of post-election negotiations that proceed on the basis of those announcements, can be sustained as Nash equilibria. Schofield has, in other work extend the results of this paper in several directions.

  • "The Evolution of the Constitution," British Journal of Political Science 32:1-20 (2002).
  • "Quandaries of War and Union in North America: 1763-1861," Politics & Society 30:5-49 (2002).

    These two papers are among the latest installments of Schofield's recent work on constitutional politics. In this work he endeavors to identify the role that more or less rapid, often intentionally instigated transformation of the beliefs a population holds play in the causal explanation of dramatic political-economic change. Schofield focuses on the importance of "core beliefs" to large-scale equilibrium institutions and on the ways that "belief cascades" can, in often unpredictable ways, subvert existing core beliefs or generate new ones and thereby help to create or destroy such equilibria. Schofield has used these concepts to explore a series of important episodes in American history including the politics leading up the Declaration of Independence, the debates surrounding the ratification of the Constitution, and the outbreak of the Civil War. In each instance he shows how political actors facing a "constitutional quandary" - a circumstance of deep uncertainty regarding the probability that one or another among a range of possible events might occur - initiate a belief cascade that challenges or consolidates core beliefs that, in turn, inform momentous political choices. In this recent research Norman Schofield continues his provocative investigations of the central place that indeterminacy and contingency play in politics.