Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?
Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition? This is a central question that has interested scholars over the last decade. As we know, proportional electoral (PR) systems favour a more accurate translation of votes into seats while majoritarian systems have the tendency to “waste” the votes of many citizens. Inter alia, therefore, proportional representation electoral systems have the benefit of representing the voice of more citizens in legislatures and in the policy-making process. Scholars have thus assumed that citizens also share and even support this view of inclusiveness in the democratic process. What is puzzling, however, is that empirical results do not support such view. The relationship between a proportional votes-seats translation at elections and citizens evaluating positively the functioning of their democracy is at best tenuous. Why do we observe this disconnection between our normative expectations of inclusion and diversity in legislatures and such null empirical findings? Furthermore, if citizens do not value fairness in the electoral competition, why might this be? I tackle these questions using the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) data in A rational or a virtuous citizenry? The asymmetric impact of biases in votes-seats translation on citizens’ satisfaction with democracy, published in Electoral Studies.
Politics as a competition between groups
A different approach is to conceive the democratic process, and elections in particular, as a competition between different groups, which want to influence the allocation of political and economic resources in society. In casting a vote, we should keep in mind that a citizen participates in this resource allocation by favouring one party over the others. This view of electoral politics is consistent, for example, with recent experimental studies that show that people tend to favour supporters of their partisan group (over non-supporters) when distributing a given some of money in series of dictator games. Overall, if we accept this view of electoral politics, our assumption about how electoral systems and especially the votes-seats translation may affect citizens’ assessment of their political system may be revised. From this perspective, instead of valuing fairness in the electoral competition, citizens should want their party to be advantaged in the electoral competition and the other parties to be disadvantaged. In other words, a citizen should prefer her party to receive a greater share of seats than votes and the other parties to receive a smaller proportion of seats than votes. Continue reading “New research synopsis: Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?”