New research synopsis: Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?

Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?
Benjamin Ferland

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?”

CSES: A Short History and New Challenges

CSES: a short history and new challenges
Jacques Thomassen


The launch of the new Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) blog is a perfect occasion to reflect upon CSES’ 22 years history and its future challenges. CSES was a joint initiative of the established election studies in a number of European countries, since 1989 joined in ICORE, and the American National Election Studies. It was kicked off in a memorable conference in Berlin in 1994.

The pièce de résistance at this meeting was a stimulus paper written by representatives from the established election studies in Western Europe and the US. This paper focused on the effect of political institutions on political behavior and the mechanisms of representative democracy. This focus lead to a fierce debate. Representatives from developing democracies argued that the paper hardly took into account the specific problems new democracies were facing. They wanted to know what kind of political institutions would enhance people’s support for democracy. As a consequence the impact of political institutions on people’s support for democracy became a second main research topic.

Ever since its tumultuous start CSES has been a tremendous success, both from an organizational and substantive perspective. We have learned  a lot more about the impact of electoral institutions both on political behavior and people’s assessment of the performance of democracy. But what we have learned might be a bit disappointing for whoever might have thought that CSES would find us the Holy Grail containing the toolbox to design the best possible political institutions for an effective and sustainable system of representative democracy. Continue reading “CSES: A Short History and New Challenges”

About the CSES blog

Welcome to the new blog of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project!

Through the blog, we are excited to provide a different glimpse into the work of the CSES project and its many associated scholars and broad user community. Through the blog you’ll be able to discover research that uses CSES data, learn about our election study collaborators that are located around the world,  get updates on data collection from the field, read about and discuss national elections, and receive updates about CSES and the world of comparative academic social science research more generally.

We hope you enjoy the blog! Please feel free to send comments, suggestions, and ideas to:

Yioryos Nardis and David Howell
Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)