The Personal(ized) Vote and Parliamentary Representation

Research question/goal: 

Electoral systems define how voters choose among political parties and candidates, and, as a consequence, also affect how re-election-seeking representatives will behave in office. The design of electoral systems therefore shapes the extent to which representation is based on persons on the one hand and on parties on the other.

Existing work on the consequences of electoral systems for personal representation has provided important insights, but suffers from both theoretical and methodological weaknesses. With regard to theory, it is usually assumed that re-election-seeking is the only motivation of representatives to appeal on personal grounds. Most studies consider only a single personal vote-seeking activity and also fail to explicitly address the implications of personal representation for party-based representation. In terms of methodology, cross-national studies struggle with separating the effects of the electoral system type from those of other country-level variables.

This project addresses the theoretical shortcomings by distinguishing two underlying motivations of representatives, looking at several types of representation efforts and treating personal and party focus as two separate, but interrelated dimensions of representation. The empirical analysis exploits intra-country variation in direct measures of electoral incentives by considering two countries that recently “personalized” specific rules of their flexible list electoral systems.

The aims of the project are to understand how two motivations—pursuing re-election as such and fostering personal reputation through electoral performance more widely—shape incentives to focus on personal constituents on the one hand and on candidate selectors within the party on the other. The project examines how these general (and unobservable) incentives are translated into specific and observable choices of parliamentary actions. In order to realize these goals, the project develops formal principal-agent models that allow it to derive predictions for the number and type of activities chosen, the topics covered, and the policy positions taken.

The predictions are assessed with data from the Czech Republic and Sweden. These countries use flexible list electoral systems, under which the relative value of list rank and personal votes depends on specific electoral rules and on the extent to which voters make use of the optional vote for candidates. Reforms of those rules, in interaction with the voters’ inclination to use the candidate vote option, create variation in electoral incentives within a country. This variation can effectively be used to study how “personalization” incentives affect what representatives do and to whom they respond. While giving voters more say in deciding which specific candidates will obtain seats is desirable as such, it is important to examine the wider consequences of such institutional designs.

Current stage: 

During 2017, we extracted and cleaned the text of parliamentary documents and conducted  quantitative text analyses. The study examining the impact of individual parliamentary activities on MP’s performance at the nomination and election stages, co-authored with colleagues from the Czech Republic and Sweden, was significantly revised and is now forthcoming in Parliamentary Affairs. Further papers are in preparation.

Fact sheet

2014 to 2018
Data Sources: 
Election results, Parliamentary activities, Survey data
Geographic Space: 
Sweden, Czech Republic