It has been recognized since the publication of Esping-Andersen's Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism that the advanced Western welfare state comes in-at least-three variants: as a Nordic social-democratic regime, a conservative regime on the European continent or as a liberal welfare state regime in the Anglo-Saxon countries. Why exactly welfare states fit into this three-regime typology remains controversial, however. This article presents an argument which provides the three-regime heuristic with a historical foundation. The argument combines insights into the importance of electoral rules for the representation of socio-economic interests (of the lower and middle classes) with insights about the different cleavage structures which left their imprint on the party systems of Western Europe. This article's central claim is that a majoritarian electoral system leads to a residual-liberal welfare state, whereas in countries with proportional representation, either a red-green coalition between Social Democracy and agrarian parties (Scandinavia) or a red-black coalition between Social Democracy and Christian Democracy (on the European continent) was responsible for the build-up of the Nordic and continental welfare state, respectively.
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