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Voter Choice and Parliamentary Politics: An Emerging Research Agenda

  • Orit Kedar

Abstract

This article offers organizing principles to an emerging research agenda that analyses how parliamentary politics affects voter considerations. It uses the process by which votes are turned into policy as a unifying framework: every step in the process poses incentives for voters and encourages different types of strategic behaviour by voters. The standard version of strategic voting commonly found in analyses of voter choice is about the step familiar from the Anglo-American model – the allocation of seats based on votes – yet insights about voter behaviour originated from that model have been inadvertently reified and assumed to apply universally. The article identifies a set of empirical implications about the likelihood of voters employing policy-oriented strategies under different circumstances.

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1 A recent exception is Duch, Raymond M., May, Jeff and Armstrong, David A. II, ‘Coalition-Directed Voting in Multi-Party Democracies’, American Political Science Review, 104 (2010), 698719.

2 See, for example, Blais, André, Aldrich, John H., Indridason, Indridi and Levine, Renan, ‘Do Voters Vote for Government Coalitions? Testing Downs’ Pessimistic Conclusion’, Party Politics, 12 (2006), 691705; Meffert, Michael F. and Gschwend, Thomas, ‘Strategic Voting under Proportional Representation and Coalition Governments: A Laboratory Experiment’ (working paper, 2009), and detailed discussion below.

3 Duverger, Maurice, Political Parties (New York: Wiley, 1954).

4 E.g., Riker, William H., ‘The Two-Party System and Duverger's Law: An Essay on the History of Political Science’, American Political Science Review, 76 (1982), 753766.

5 E.g., Blais, André, Nadeau, Richard, Gidengil, Elisabeth and Nevitte, Neil, ‘Measuring Strategic Voting in Multiparty Plurality Elections’, Electoral Studies, 20 (2001), 343352; Alvarez, Michael R. and Nagler, Jonathan, ‘A New Approach to Modelling Strategic Voting in Multiparty Elections’, British Journal of Political Science, 30 (2000), 5775.

6 Of course, the mere idea of strategic voting assumes away the question of tuning out under a rational framework. The voter behaves as if she is pivotal.

7 Duverger, , Political Parties, p. 217.

8 Chhibber, Pradeep and Kollman, Ken, The Formation of National Party Systems: Federalism and Party Competition in Canada, Great Britain, India, and the United States (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2004); Chhibber, Pradeep and Kollman, Ken, ‘Party Aggregation and the Number of Parties in India and the United States’, American Political Science Review, 92 (1998), 329342.

9 Amorim Neto, Octavio and Cox, Gary W., ‘Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties’, American Journal of Political Science, 41 (1997), 149174.

10 Roberts Clark, William and Golder, Matt, ‘Rehabilitating Duverger's Theory: Testing the Mechanical and Strategic Modifying Effects of Electoral Laws’, Comparative Political Studies, 39 (2006), 679708.

11 Cox, Gary W., Making Votes Count (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997). The district magnitude is the number of seats per district.

12 Cox, , Making Votes Count, p. 100. An additional potential reason is that as the number of seats per district increases, voters have less of an incentive to vote strategically, since, other things being equal, the effective threshold for parliamentary entry is lowered, and other than in the case of very small parties, the threshold can be more easily passed.

13 Duch et al., ‘Coalition-Directed Voting in Multi-Party Democracies’.

14 An alternative operationalization is a thermometer scale, as used by Gschwend, Thomas, ‘District Magnitude and the Comparative Study of Strategic Voting’, in Hans-Dieter Klingerman, ed., The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), pp. 289307.

15 The magnitude of the median legislator's district is that in which half of the legislators are elected in smaller-magnitude districts and half in larger-magnitude districts. Following Neto, Amorim and Cox, ‘Electoral Institutions, Cleavage Structures, and the Number of Parties’, p. 157, this is considered a standard central tendency measure of electoral penetrability for new parties.

16 CSES. 2003. CSES Module 1, 1996–2001 (August 4, 2003 Version). Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan [producer and distributor]. CSES. 2007. CSES Module 2, 2001–2005 (June 27, 2006 Version). Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan [producer and distributor] (both available at www.cses.org).

17 I thank Matias Bargsted for letting me use the proximity rate figures reported on the vertical axis that were originally calculated for our joint work: Bargsted, Matias A. and Kedar, Orit, ‘Duvergerian-Targeted Coalition Voting: How Expectations Affect Voter Choice under Proportional Representation’, American Journal of Political Science, 53 (2009), 307323.

18 In a survey of thirty-two country/elections, Hobolt, Sara B. and Karp, Jeffrey A., ‘Voters and Coalition Governments’, Electoral Studies, 29 (2010), 299307, find that an average of 15–20 per cent support a party different from the one they prefer the most. Although suggesting higher rates of sincere voting, this figure too indicates that many are pulled away from their favourite party.

19 These findings are consistent with those reported by Abramson, Paul R., Aldrich, John H., Blais, André, Diamond, Matthew, Diskin, Abraham, Indridason, Indridi, Lee, Daniel and Levine, Renan, ‘Comparing Strategic Voting under FPTP and PR’, Comparative Political Studies, 43 (2010), 6390. Comparing vote intentions under majoritarian and proportional democracy in seven election/countries, the authors conclude that at least as many voters support their non-favourite party in the latter as in the former.

20 Of course, in some cases parties announce pre-electoral coalitions (see Golder, Sona N., ‘Pre-electoral Coalition Formation in Parliamentary Democracies’, British Journal of Political Science, 36 (2006), 193212).

21 Golder, ‘Pre-electoral Coalition Formation in Parliamentary Democracies’.

22 Bowler, Shaun, Karp, Jeffrey A. and Donovan, Todd, ‘Strategic Coalition Voting: Evidence from New Zealand’, Electoral Studies, 29 (2010), 350357.

23 Vowles, Jack, ‘Making a Difference? Public Perceptions of Coalition, Single-Party, and Minority Governments’, Electoral Studies, 29 (2010), 370380.

24 In ‘Making a Difference?’ Vowles measures authoritarianism using two survey items: ‘A few strong leaders could make this country better than all the laws and talk’, and ‘What young people need most is strict discipline from their parents’.

25 Blais et al., ‘Do Voters Vote For Government Coalitions?’.

26 Blais et al. , ‘Do Voters Vote for Government Coalitions?’ p. 703.

27 Bowler et al., ‘Strategic Coalition Voting’.

28 Irwin, Galen A. and van Holsteyn, Joop J.M., ‘They Say It Can't Be Done? Strategic Voting in Multi-Party Proportional Systems: The Case of The Netherlands’ (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, 2003).

29 Meffert, Michael F. and Gschwend, Thomas, ‘Strategic Coalition Voting: Evidence from Austria’, Electoral Studies, Vol. 29 (2011), 339349.

30 See Blais, André and Carty, R. K., ‘The Psychological Impact of Electoral Laws: Measuring Duverger's Elusive Factor’, British Journal of Political Science, 21 (1991), 7993; Benoit, Kenneth, ‘Duverger's Law and the Study of Electoral Systems’, French Politics, 4 (2006), 6983.

31 Cox, Making Votes Count.

32 Cox, Gary W. and Soberg Shugart, Matthew, ‘Strategic Voting under Proportional Representation’, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 12 (1996), 299324.

33 Niemi, Richard G., Whitten, Guy and Franklin, Mark N., ‘Constituency Characteristics, Individual Characteristics, and Tactical Voting in the 1987 British General Elections’, British Journal of Political Science, 22 (1992), 229240, especially at p. 238; Heath, Anthony, Curtice, John, Jowell, Roger, Evans, Geoff, Field, Julia and Witherspoon, Sharon, Understanding Political Change: The British Voter: 1964–1987 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).

34 Evans, Geoffrey and Heath, Anthony, ‘A Tactical Error in the Analysis of Tactical Voting: A Response to Niemi, Heath, and Franklin’, British Journal of Political Science, 23 (1993), 131137; Niemi, Richard G., Whitten, Guy and Franklin, Mark N., ‘People Who Live in Glass Houses: A Response to Evans and Heath's Critique of Our Note on Tactical Voting’, British Journal of Political Science, 23 (1993), 549553; Franklin, Mark N., Niemi, Richard G. and Whitten, Guy, ‘The Two Faces of Tactical Voting’, British Journal of Political Science, 24 (1994), 549557; Heath, Anthony and Evans, Geoffrey, ‘Tactical Voting: Concepts, Measurement, and Findings’, British Journal of Political Science, 24 (1994), 557561.

35 Galbraith, John W. and Rae, Nicol C., ‘A Test of the Importance of Tactical Voting: Great Britain, 1987’, British Journal of Political Science, 19 (1989), 126136.

36 Evans, Geoffrey, Curtice, John and Norris, Pippa, ‘New Labour, New Tactical Voting? The Causes and Consequences of Tactical Voting in the 1997 General Election’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 8 (1998), 6579.

37 Alvarez and Nagler, ‘A New Approach to Modelling Strategic Voting in Multiparty Elections’, Table 1. Studies reviewed examine British general elections, Canadian general elections and US primaries.

38 Fisher, Stephen D. and Curtice, John, ‘Tactical Unwind? Changes in Party Preference Structure and Tactical Voting in Britain between 2001 and 2005’, Journal of Elections, Public Opinion, and Parties, 16 (2006), 5576.

39 Burden, Barry C., ‘Minor Parties and Strategic Voting in Recent U.S. Presidential Elections’, Electoral Studies, 24 (2005), 603618.

40 Raymond Duch, M. and Palmer, Harvey D., ‘Strategic Voting in Post-Communist Democracy?’ British Journal of Political Science, 32 (2002), 6391.

41 Gschwend, Thomas, ‘Ticket-Splitting and Strategic Voting under Mixed Electoral Rules: Evidence from Germany’, European Journal of Political Research, 46 (2007), 123, p. 5.

42 Wawrick, Paul V. and Druckman, James N., ‘The Portfolio Allocation Paradox: Investigation into the Nature of a Very Strong but Puzzling Relationship’, European Journal of Political Research, 45 (2006), 635665.

43 Bowler et al., ‘Strategic Coalition Voting’.

44 Bargsted and Kedar, ‘Duvergerian-Targeted Coalition Voting’.

45 For a model of voters concerned with margin of victory, see Llavador, Humberto, ‘Voting with Preferences over Margins of Victory’, Mathematical Social Sciences, 56 (2008), 355365.

46 Michael F. Meffert and Thomas Gschwend, ‘Strategic Coalition Voting’.

47 Gschwend, ‘Ticket-Splitting and Strategic Voting under Mixed Electoral Rules’.

48 Rosema, Martin, ‘Strategic and Semi-strategic Voting under Different Electoral Systems’ (paper prepared for delivery at the annual Meeting of the Dutch Political Science Organization, Antwerp, 2004).

49 A related question is whether parties react to these strategies. In a study of a time-series cross-section of pre-electoral coalitions in Western Europe, Sona N. Golder tests the hypothesis that pre-electoral coalitions are formed to signal to voters otherwise in a state of uncertainty the potential government that will form after the election if the party wins. She finds no support for this hypothesis: a greater number of parties (and usually, hence, greater uncertainty) is not correlated with announcing a pre-electoral coalition, but notes that her findings should be taken as tentative since the hypothesis has more than one version ( Golder, Sona N., ‘Pre-Electoral Coalitions in Comparative Perspective: A Test of Existing Hypotheses’, Electoral Studies, 24 (2005), 643663).

50 The effect can be direct, indirect or contingent on a third variable. See the typology of effects proposed by Dalton, Russell J. and Anderson, Christopher J., ‘Citizens, Context, and Choice’, in Russell J. Dalton and Christopher J. Anderson, eds, Citizens, Context, and Choice: How Context Shapes Citizens’ Electoral Choices (New York: Oxford University Press, forthcoming), pp. 3–30.

51 Strøm, Kaare, Minority Government and Majority Rule (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

52 Döring, Herbert, ‘Time as a Scarce Resource: Government Control of the Agenda’, in Herbert Döring, ed., Parliaments and Majority Rule in Western Europe (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995).

53 Laver, Michael and Ben Hunt, W., Policy and Party Competition (New York: Routledge, 1992).

54 Strøm, Minority Government and Majority Rule, pp. 70–2.

55 Strøm, Minority Government and Majority Rule, pp. 207–209.

56 Strøm, Minority Government and Majority Rule, p. 58.

57 Blais, André and Gschwend, Thomas, ‘Strategic Defection across Elections, Parties, and Voters’, in Russell J. Dalton and Christopher J. Anderson, eds, Citizens, Context, Choice: How Context Shapes Citizens’ Electoral Choices (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).

58 Gschwend, ‘Ticket-Splitting and Strategic Voting under Mixed Electoral Rules: Evidence from Germany’.

59 Grofman, Bernard, ‘The Neglected Role of the Status Quo in Models of Issue Voting’, Journal of Politics, 47 (1985), 229237.

60 Duch et al., ‘Strategic Voting in Post-Communist democracy?’.

61 Karp, Jeffrey A., Vowles, Jack, Banducci, Susan A. and Donovan, Todd, ‘Strategic Voting, Party Activity, and Candidate Effects: Testing Explanations for Split Voting in New Zealand's New Mixed System’, Electoral Studies, 21 (2002), 122.

62 Bartels, Larry M., ‘Beyond the Running Tally: Partisan Bias in Political Perceptions’, Political Behavior, 24 (2002), 117150.

63 Blais and Gschwend, ‘Strategic Defection across Elections, Parties, and Voters’.

64 Aldrich et al., ‘Coalition Considerations and the Vote’.

65 Bargsted and Kedar, ‘Duvergerian-Targeted Coalition Voting’.

* Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (email: ). The author is grateful to Shlomit Barnea, Suzanne Berger, Yaron Ezrahi, Humberto Llavador, Lital Myers, Jonathan Nagler, Lilach Nir, Athanassios Roussias, Ignacio Sánchez–Cuenca, Ken Scheve, Kathy Thelen and participants of the 2010 annual meeting of the Israeli Political Science Association Permanent Seminar at the Juan March Institute, and Leitner Political Economy Seminar at Yale University for comments and suggestions. The author also wishes to thank Liran Harsgor, Raz Sheinerman and Adam Ziegfeld for superb research assistance. Replication materials can be downloaded from http://pluto.mscc.huji.ac.il/~okedar/research.htm.

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British Journal of Political Science
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