Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

Principled Success? Do Inclusive, Principle-Guided Choice Processes Improve the Performance of Mixed Electoral Systems?

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Politics

Principled Success? Do Inclusive, Principle-Guided Choice Processes Improve the Performance of Mixed Electoral Systems?

Article excerpt

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1 INTRODUCTION

The initially great hopes associated with mixed-member electoral systems have been followed by successful as well as unfortunate experiments with these electoral institutions. Mixed-member systems were hoped to strike a superior balance between proportional and majoritarian designs (Lijphart 1984; Shugart and Wattenberg 2001). Next to successfully balancing demands and providing both proportionality (representativeness) and concentration (governability) of party systems (Shugart and Wattenberg 2001; Gallagher 2005), however, mixed-member systems have also often been found to be leading to unexpected, extreme, and ultimately undesirable outcomes (e.g. Ferrara et al. 2005; Lundberg 2009; Bochsler 2012). Explanations of varying performances of these systems are typically based on the systems' exact technical designs and/or the socio-political scope conditions under which they operate. What has been neglected is the key question of whether the mixed-member electoral systems implemented throughout the world are actually meant to achieve any sort of superior middle ground or general balance between different functional goals. Does a mixed electoral system actually aim at fulfilling the competing principles of proportional representation and concentration or has it been the compromise outcome of intense bargaining, lacking any guiding normative goal? Did parties agree on a design or was the design imposed by a self-serving government? These questions refer to the principle of representation dimension of electoral systems which asks whether the electoral system is supposed to achieve any general normative goal and which goal this is (see Raabe and Linhart 2012; Raabe 2015). Answering them will give us a basis to evaluate in how far mixed-member electoral systems really typically aim at successfully balancing competing principles of concentration and proportionality with respect to the election outcomes. The implication for the performance of mixed-member systems developed in this paper is straightforward: consciously designed mixed-member systems aiming at a good performance with respect to both proportionality and concentration should be more likely to achieve this superior balance than mixed-member systems merely functioning as strategic tools or deriving from convoluted bargaining - holding constant the specific technical design.

This paper deals with two key tasks in establishing the link between the principle of representation (or lack thereof) of an electoral system and its eventual performance: first, a comparative dataset regarding the principle of representation of mixed-member electoral systems is needed. And second, based on this dataset, the effect on electoral system performance has to be tested empirically. Fulfilling the first task, a case study survey is undertaken in order to retain reliable answers to the questions about the process of implementing a mixed-member electoral system. Contrary to the technical design of electoral systems, one must carefully look at the case study literature in order to derive information regarding the principle of representation dimension. In doing so, this paper also aims at integrating large-n and small-n analyses in the field of electoral system research. In order to deal with the second task, all elections under mixed-member electoral rules will be used to investigate whether the characteristics of the choice process affect the performance of the electoral system. The results will then not only speak to the question of whether the wide variation in mixed-member system performance can partly be explained by taking the principle of representation dimension into account, but also more broadly to the question of whether more inclusive, principle-guided design will ultimately improve the functioning of democratic institutions.

The paper is structured as follows: section 2 discusses with which general goals mixed-member systems are typically associated and in how far these associations are reasonable. …

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