William H. Riker

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William Harrison Riker (September 22, 1920 – June 26, 1993) was an American political scientist who applied game theory and mathematics to political science.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

William Harrison Riker was born on September 22, 1920 in Des Moines, Iowa. He earned his Bachelor's Degree in economics at Indiana's DePauw University in 1942 and received his Ph.D at Harvard University in 1948. While a student at DePauw, he was initiated into the Delta Kappa Epsilon Fraternity.[1]


He took on a professorship at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin (then Lawrence College), where he published The Theory of Political Coalitions (1962). In 1962, he became the chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Rochester, where he remained chair until 1977, and remained active until his death.

He founded the now-mainstream field of positive political theory, which introduced game theory and the axiomatic method of social choice theory to political science.[2] Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Kenneth Shepsle in their memoir write that "These have proved crucial to predictive tests for political theory."[3]

Among other contributions, he is known for work on the theory and history of federalism and on something he called "heresthetics"—the art politicians use when they change political outcomes without changing peoples' underlying preferences, for example by manipulating the order in which decisions are made.

Concerning political coalition for the benefit of minorities, he argued that the larger the coalition, the shorter-lived it is.[4]

The William H. Riker Prize for excellence in undergraduate teaching is awarded by the University of Rochester bi-annually in his honor. The Political Economy section of the American Political Science Association awards an annual book prize in his name as well.


  • Riker, William H. “The Paradox of Voting and Congressional Rules for Voting on. Amendments.” American Political Science Review. 52, 1958: 349-366.
  • ____. The Theory of Political Coalitions. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1962.
  • ____. "Federalism: Origin, Operation, Significance". Boston: Little, Brown, 1964.
  • ____. "Implications from the Disequilibrium of Majority Rule for the Study of Institutions," American Political Science Review, 74, 1980: 432-46. (JSTOR)
  • ____. Liberalism Against Populism. San Francisco: W. H. Freeman, 1982.
  • ____. "The Heresthetics of Constitution-Making: The Presidency in 1787, with Comments on Determinism and Rational Choice." American Political Science Review, 78, 1984: 1-16.
  • ____. The Art of Political Manipulation. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986.
  • ____. The Strategy of Rhetoric. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Mirage. Greencastle, IN: DePauw University. 1942. p. 67. 
  2. ^ Eamonn Butler (2012). Public Choice--A Primer (PDF) (PDF). London: Institute of Economic Affairs. p. 36. 
  3. ^ Bueno de Mesquita, Bruce; Shepsle, Kenneth. "William Harrison Riker". Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2013-09-18. 
  4. ^ Eamonn Butler, Public Choice: A Primer, London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 2012, p. 63

External links[edit]