Stadelmann, D., Portmann, M. and R. Eichenberger (2016): "Perference Representation and the Influence of Political Parties in Majoritarian vs. Proportional Systems: An Empirical Test", British Journal of Political Science. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/S0007123416000399.
In their recent article, Stadelmann, Portmann, and Eichenberger provide empirical evidence supporting the common wisdom that majoritarian electoral systems lead to a higher level of correspondence between policy preferences of representatives and voters than proportional ones through a case study of Switzerland. This case selection ensures a high level of comparability across different electoral systems: Switzerland has two chambers with similar competences, which are elected in the same electoral districts, but apply a proportional electoral system in one (the national council) and a majoritarian electoral system in the other (the council of states). Moreover, the direct democratic system provides information on citizens’ policy preferences regarding concrete bills, because Swiss citizens can demand referenda on laws passed by both chambers. The researchers are hence able to analyze the probability for correspondence between a single legislator’s vote on a certain law in the chamber and the majority of votes in the representative’s constituency on the same bill during the referendum. Their findings show that representatives elected under the majoritarian system have a higher probability to correspond with the majority vote in their district compared to their counterparts elected under the proportional system.
However, while the methodological approach of the study is innovative, I wonder to what extent we can generalize from the case under study to other countries. In my view, the particularities of the Swiss case might drive the findings. To begin with, representatives elected through majoritarian electoral systems might only be more prone to consider district majorities, if bills can be challenged in a referendum. The direct democratic element increases the visibility of parliamentary action, because the public will engage with the voting behavior of their representatives during referendum campaigns. Awareness of this might influence the voting behavior of representatives, in particular of legislators elected in small districts, because their vote serves as a recommendation to their constituency (as the authors mention). At the same time, this also means that representatives elected through the majoritarian system have a higher capacity to influence the vote choice of their electorates in the referendum in the direction of their original vote. The study would have profited from a more careful consideration of the limitations of the research design.
Author: Corinna Kroeber in January 2017