(This post is part of Politics for Worldbuilders, an occasional series.)
This exercise is meant to apply to concepts of this post, which discusses a flexible model for quickly sketching out the key political conflicts in your setting—focusing on who the ruler must keep happy in order to stay in power. If you like the exercises below and want to use them, first read the linked post and then come back.
- Spend five minutes thinking about your setting, then list all the kinds of people who have any influence at all on who the leader is. Are they powerful generals? Wealthy merchants? Priests? Voters in a democracy? Voters in an oligarchy or stratified society? Nobles? Regional governors? Board directors or shareholders of a corporation? This is the selectorate.
- Of all those people, what is the minimum level of support a leader would need to stay in power? How many different ways are there to put together such a support coalition?
- What could a leader offer his/her coalition members to keep them loyal? How could the leader threaten them?
- If a coalition member is disloyal, how easily could the member be replaced by the leader with another member of the selectorate?
- If the selectorate is unhappy with the leader, how easily could a new support coalition be built behind someone else?
- How might policies that favor the support coalition harm people outside of it? (For example, taxing the populace and giving a subsidy to coalition members.) How might potential policies to benefit outsiders harm members of the coalition, and thus be rejected? (For example, building a port that would make grain cheaper, when your supporters are rich landowners who sell grain.)
- How could new classes of people join the selectorate? (For example, women gaining the right to vote.) Who would benefit from such a change?
- How could existing classes of people lose their place in the selectorate? (For example, a democracy becoming a dictatorship; or powerful religious leaders being displaced by a religious purge.) Who would benefit from such a change?
- What might change to allow the leader to need fewer supporters, or to force the leader to seek more supporters?
- Looking at all the possibilities for conflict that you listed above, which has the most resonance for the story you want to tell?