Thomas Däubler
Do more flexible lists increase the take-up of preference voting?

Electoral Studies, 2020: 68, Heft December 2020, (article no. 102232)
ISSN: 0261-3794

In many preferential-list proportional representation systems, voting for a candidate is voluntary. Previous studies suggest a positive relationship between the impact of preference votes on seat allocation and how often they are used. However, existing work uses indirect measures on the right-hand side or suffers from the reverse causality problem. Focusing on electoral reform, this study argues that a change in rules affects the extent of personal voting if it alters the beliefs about which types of seat allocation are possible. These types are captured using a new trichotomous measure of list flexibility. The anticipated changes to seat allocation induced by a reform in Sweden allow us to carry out an over-time analysis with appropriate counterfactuals. The results show that moderate increases in list flexibility lead to more preference voting, whereas strong increases cause a drop. Additional analyses suggest that the unexpected decrease results from local parties adjusting their candidate selection strategies.