Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Strategic Effects of Electoral Rules Testing the Impact of the 2008 Electoral Reform in Romania*

Academic journal article Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review

Strategic Effects of Electoral Rules Testing the Impact of the 2008 Electoral Reform in Romania*

Article excerpt

Political institutions matter. Not only do they affect political outcomes (e.g., Duverger's "mechanical effect"), but also they structure political behavior (Duverger's "psychological effect"1). A change in the rules governing a political institution is quite often accompanied by a change in the incentives governing the behavior of political actors. Changes of the electoral systems are no exception to this rule; as a matter of fact, they are arguably the most prominent exemplification of it.

In 2008, Romania changed the rules governing the election of the two Chambers of its Parliament (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), from closed party list proportional representation to a single-ballot mixed electoral system. One of the justifications offered for this change (in fact, the reason that was the most widely discussed), was to offer Romanian voters the chance to vote for a specific candidate. One of the implications is, then, that some voters may choose based on the qualities of candidates, rather than their ideological affiliation, and may in fact prefer to vote for a candidate who does not represent their preferred party. If that happens, the reform has "personalized" the vote and, by doing so, it achieved its purpose. If this does not happen, and voters continue to choose solely based on ideological preferences and party labels, then the electoral reform has failed.

The purpose of this paper is precisely to test whether the reform did, in fact, have an effect. One way of testing this, with the benefit of hindsight, is to use aggregate returns from Romania's first parliamentary elections held under the new electoral rules (November 2008), and compare those with the results of previous parliamentary elections (2000 and 2004), held under the old rules, and see whether the patterns of regional support for various political parties do change as a result of the aforementioned institutional reform. We develop a model of electoral behavior at the individual level which has observable implications at the aggregate level2. We formalize these implications into hypotheses that we test with empirical data, the results of which indicate whether the electoral reform was successful or not.

Types of Electoral Systems and "Personal" Vote: Previous Research

There have been a number of studies on the effects of electoral systems on personalizing the vote. Carey and Shugart develop a ranking of electoral systems according to the degree to which they increase the incentives to cultivate a personal vote3. According to them, the likelihood of a personal vote increases with the increase in the freedom of choice for voters and with a decrease in party leaders' control over candidate nomination. For instance, they rank the single non-transferable vote (SNTV) without party leadership control over nomination as the "zenith in the value of personal reputation relative to party reputation"4. Other systems that rank high are plurality systems that use primaries, because they create intraparty competition and party leaders cannot decide who will use the party label. The new Romanian electoral system used for the 2008 parliamentary elections falls, according to this ranking, somewhere in the middle. While it is more conducive to a personal vote compared to the previous system of party list PR, the party still controls the nomination and the party reputation still matters because the votes of a party's candidates are pooled, determining the party's share of the seats in the legislature5.

Other authors using alternative classifications of electoral systems arrive at similar conclusions. Grofman, for instance, divide the Carey and Shugart index of "incentives to cultivate a personal vote" into two components: the degree of party-centeredness of the electoral system and the size of a legislator's electoral constituency, i.e., the number of voters who voted for a candidate6. While their classification of electoral systems using their own criteria provides different results than those of Carey and Shugart for a number of electoral systems, such as the single transferable vote (STV) and the single non- transferable vote (SNTV), it gives similar results for the mixed electoral systems, located in an intermediate position. …

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