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The Electoral System, the Party System and Accountability in Parliamentary Government

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  18 May 2020

CHRISTOPHER KAM
Affiliation:
University of British Columbia
ANTHONY M. BERTELLI
Affiliation:
Bocconi University and Pennsylvania State University
ALEXANDER HELD
Affiliation:
Trinity College Dublin

Abstract

Electoral accountability requires that voters have the ability to constrain the incumbent government’s policy-making power. We express the necessary conditions for this claim as an accountability identity in which the electoral system and the party system interact to shape the accountability of parliamentary governments. Data from 400 parliamentary elections between 1948 and 2012 show that electoral accountability is contingent on the party system’s bipolarity, for example, with parties arrayed in two distinct blocs. Proportional electoral systems achieve accountability as well as majoritarian ones when bipolarity is strong but not when it is weak. This is because bipolarity decreases the number of connected coalitions that incumbent parties can join to preserve their policy-making power. Our results underscore the limitations that party systems place on electoral reform and the benefits that bipolarity offers for clarifying voters’ choices and intensifying electoral competition.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
© American Political Science Association 2020

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Footnotes

We thank participants at the Southern California Comparative Political Institutions meetings, participants at seminars at the London School of Economics, King’s College London, the University of Essex, University of California-San Diego, University of Lausanne, and the University of Mannheim, and Jose Antonio Cheibub, Shaun Bowler, Lucy Barnes, and G. Bingham Powell Jr. for their helpful comments. Replication data and code and the appendix can be found at: https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/5QBS9A

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