Skip to main content

The Electoral Sweet Spot in the Lab

  • Simon Labbé St-Vincent (a1), André Blais (a2) and Jean-Benoit Pilet (a3)

Carey and Hix (2011) propose that a proportional electoral system with a moderate number of seats per district offers the best compromise between (1) accurate representation and (2) strong accountability. The argument is that there is a district magnitude (DM) level where the trade-off between proportionality and fragmentation of parties is optimal. This DM is called the sweet spot. We explore this proposition through lab experiments conducted in Brussels and Montreal. We find that the probability of achieving a “good” outcome on both proportionality and the number of parties is slightly higher at moderate DMs. We note, however, that this probability remains low.

Hide All
Anderson, C. J. 2000. “Economic Voting and Political Context: A Comparative Perspective.” Electoral Studies 19 (2–3): 151–70.
Benoit, K. 2000. “Which Electoral Formula Is the Most Proportional? A New Look with New Evidence.” Political Analysis 8 (4): 381–8.
Bingham Powell, G. and Whitten, G. D.. 1993. “A Cross-National Analysis of Economic Voting. Taking Account of the Political Context.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (2): 391414.
Blais, A. and Massicotte, L.. 2002. “Electoral Systems,” In Comparing Democracies, ed. Le Duc, Lawrence, Niemi, Richard G., and Norris, Pippa. vol. 2. London: Sage Publications, pp. 4069.
Bouhon, F. and Reuchamps, M.. 2012. Les systèmes électoraux de la Belgique. Brussels: Bruylant.
Bowler, S., Farrell, D., and Pettitt, R.. 2005. “Expert Opinions on Electoral Systems: So Which Electoral System is Best?.” Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties 15 (1): 319.
Carey, J. and Hix, S.. 2011. “The Electoral Sweet Spot: Low-Magnitude Proportional Electoral Systems.” American Journal of Political Science 55 (2): 383–97.
Cox, G. W. 1997. Making Votes Count – Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fischbacher, U. 2007. “Z-Tree: Zurich Toolbox for Ready-Made Economic Experiments.” Experimental Economics 10 (2): 171–8.
Gallagher, M. 1991. “Proportionality, Disproportionality and Electoral Systems.” Electoral Studies 10: 3351.
Greiner, B. 2004. “An online recruitment system for economic experiments.” In eds. K. Kremer and V. Macho, dir., Forschung und wissenschaftliches Rechnen 2003.
Grofman, B. N. and Lijphart, A., eds. 1986. Electoral Laws and Their Political Consequences. New York: Agathon Press.
Hellwig, T. and Samuels, D.. 2007. “Electoral Accountability and the Variety of Democratic Regimes.” British Journal of Political Science 38: 6590.
Katz, R. S. 1997. Democracy and Elections. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kedar, O., Harsgor, L., and Sheinerman, R. A.. 2013. “Are Voters Equal Under Proportional Representation.” Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of the European Political Science Association, Barcelona, June 20–22.
Klingemann, H.-D., Volkens, A., Bara, J., Budge, I., and McDonald, M.. 2006. Mapping Policy Preferences II: Estimates for Parties, Electors, and Governments in Eastern Europe, the European Union and the OECD, 1990–2003. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Laakso, M. and Taagepera, R.. 1979. “Effective Number of Parties: A Measure with Application to West Europe.” Comparative Political Studies 12: 327.
Lago, I., Bermúdez, S., Guinjoan, M., Rowe, K., and Simón, P.. 2013. “Party Mobilization and Electoral Systems”, Paper Presented at the Annual Conference of the European Political Science Association, Barcelona, June 20–22.
Lijphart, A. 1990. “The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws, 1945–1985.” American Political Science Review 84: 481–95.
Lijphart, A. 1994. Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945–1990. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Powell, G. B. 2000. Elections as Instruments of Democracy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Taagepera, R. and Shugart, M.. 1989. Seats and Votes: The Effects and Determinants of Electoral Systems. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Experimental Political Science
  • ISSN: 2052-2630
  • EISSN: 2052-2649
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-experimental-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

St-Vincent supplementary material

 PDF (730 KB)
730 KB


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed