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Career Ambitions and Legislative Participation: The Moderating Effect of Electoral Institutions

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2017


What motivates politicians to engage in legislative activities? In multilevel systems politicians may be incentivized by ambitions to advance their careers either at the state or federal level. This article argues that the design of the electoral institutions influences how politicians respond to these incentives. Analyzing a unique dataset of both ‘stated’ and ‘realized’ career ambitions of Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), it finds that those who seek to move from the European to the national (state) level participate less in legislative activities than those who plan to stay at the European (federal) level. For MEPs who aim to move to the state level, attendance and participation in legislative activities is substantively lower among legislators from candidate-centered systems. Importantly, the effect of career ambitions on legislative participation is stronger in candidate-centered systems than in party-centered systems. These findings suggest that the responsiveness associated with candidate-centered systems comes at the expense of legislative activity.

© Cambridge University Press 2017 

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Department of Political Science, University of Oslo (email:; Department of Government and European Institute, London School of Economics and Political Science (email:; Department of Government, London School of Economics and Political Science (email: An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2013 EPSA meeting; at the 2015 Conference on Elections: Behaviors, Institutions and Reforms Conference at Toulouse School of Economics; and at seminars at the University of Oslo and Stanford University. We thank the audience, in particular Simon Hug, Christophe Crombez and Kenneth Scheve, as well as the reviewers and the editor for useful comments. Haakon Gjerlow, Lars Sutterud, Martin Søyland and Silje Hexeberg Tørnblad provided excellent research assistance. While carrying out this research, Bjørn Høyland has been associated with the European Strains project at the Centre for the study of Equality, Social Organization and Performance at the Department of Economics, University of Oslo. This project is funded by the Research Council of Norway through its Europe in Transition funding scheme, project number 227072/F10. Høyland would also like to thank the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for providing a seed grant for this project. Replication data is available at and online appendices are available at


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