Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990

Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990

Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990

Electoral Systems and Party Systems: A Study of Twenty-Seven Democracies, 1945-1990

Synopsis

An electoral system is the most fundamental element of representative democracy, translating citizen's votes into representatives' seats. It is also the most potent practical instrument available to democratic reformers. This systematic and comprehensive study describes and classifies the 70 electoral systems used by 27 democracies - including those of Western Europe, Australia, Canada, the USA, Costa Rica, India, Israel, Japan, and New Zealand - for 384 national legislative and European Parliament elections between 1945 and 1990. Using comparative and statistical analyses of these systems, Arend Lijphart demonstrates the effect of the electoral formula used, the number of representatives elected per district, electoral thresholds, and of five other key features of electoral systems on the proportionality of the election outcome, the degree of multipartism, and the creation of majority parties. In the process he reveals that electoral systems are neither as diverse nor as complex as is often assumed. Electoral Systems and Party Systems represents the most definitive treatment of the subject since Rae's classic study in 1967, based as it is on more accurate and comprehensive data (covering more countries and over a longer time span), and using stronger hypotheses and better analytical methods. The unique information and analysis it offers will make it essential reading for everyone working in the field.

Excerpt

Except in very small communities, democracy necessarily means representative democracy in which elected officials make decisions on behalf of the people. How are these representatives elected? This indispensable task in representative democracies is performed by the electoral system--the set of methods for translating the citizens' votes into representatives' seats. Thus the electoral system is the most fundamental element of representative democracy.

The aim of this book is to analyse the operation and the political consequences of electoral systems, especially the degree of proportionality of their translation of votes into seats and their effects on party systems. My emphasis will be on the electoral systems that have been used in the world's most successful democracies--that is, those that have been in existence for a long time-- most of which are European democracies. I shall describe the electoral systems in terms of their three most basic properties: the electoral formula (such as plurality, the different forms of proportional representation, and so on), the district magnitude (the number of representatives elected per district), and the electoral threshold (the minimum support that a party needs to obtain in order to be represented). These three elements, which will be defined more precisely later on, together with the size of the representative body, will be shown to have major consequences, especially for proportionality but also for party systems.

The number of electoral systems is, in principle, infinite; the number of systems that democratic engineers and reformers have proposed is much smaller; and the number that have been in actual use is smaller still. I shall try to show that there is neither as much variation in electoral systems nor as much complexity as is often assumed. In particular, systems of proportional representation--to which I shall henceforth refer as PR--are often thought of as inherently complicated; newspaper articles reporting on PR

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