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Is Proportional Representation More Favourable to the Left? Electoral Rules and Their Impact on Elections, Parliaments and the Formation of Cabinets

  • Holger Döring and Philip Manow

Abstract

How do electoral rules affect the composition of governments? It is a robust finding that countries with majoritarian rules more often elect conservative governments than those with proportional representation (PR) electoral systems. There are three explanations for this pattern. The first stresses the impact of voting behaviour: the middle class more often votes for right-wing parties in majoritarian electoral systems, anticipating governments’ redistributive consequences. The second explanation is based on electoral geography: the regional distribution of votes may bias the vote-seat translation against the Left in majoritarian systems due to the wide margins by which the Left wins core urban districts. The third explanation refers to party fragmentation: if the Right is more fragmented than the Left in countries with PR, then there is less chance of a right-wing party gaining formateur status. This study tests these three hypotheses for established democracies over the entire post-war period. It finds the first two mechanisms at work in the democratic chain of delegation from voting via the vote-seat translation to the formation of cabinets, while party fragmentation does not seem to co-vary as much as expected with electoral rules. These findings confirm that majoritarian systems have a substantive conservative bias, whereas countries with PR show more differentiated patterns.

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Footnotes

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Centre for Social Policy Research, University of Bremen (email: doering@uni-bremen.de); Centre for Social Policy Research, University of Bremen and Institute for Advanced Study, Berlin (email: manow@uni-bremen.de). Previous versions of this paper were presented at the 2011 APSA Annual Meeting in Seattle, a CRC 597 workshop in Bremen, the 2012 EPSA General Conference in Berlin, the Europeanists Conference in Amsterdam 2013, the 2013 ECPR General Conference in Bordeaux and a 2013 workshop on democratic governments in Lund. We would like to thank Michael Becher, Dominik Duell, Sona Golder, Vera Tröger and Melike Wulfgramm for their helpful comments on the paper and Inken Behrmann for her research assistance. Both authors contributed equally to this work. Data replication sets are available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/BJPolS and online appendices are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123415000290.

Footnotes

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