Robert Rohrschneider, Rüdiger Schmitt-Beck, Sara Gouge
"You are Fired": How Voters Come to Believe that Party Systems are Incompetent

APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, Philadelphia, PA, August 31st to September 04th, 2016

We examine perceptions of party system incompetence among electorates in advanced democracies. We theorize that too much attribution of incompetence can undermine a core democratic linkage: policy-based accountability and representation. Theory suggests that once perceptions of incompetence for the entire party system reach about one third of an electorate, the core democratic linkage weakens or may break down. Using the Comparative Studies of Electoral Systems data set (CSES 3), we find that about one third of all respondents in advanced democracy believe that no party is able to solve an important problem. We also find that in about two thirds of party systems, incompetence attributions are higher than competence attributions to either governing or opposition parties. We finally show that these perceptions have consequences for voters’ evaluations of the democratic process. Overall, the study suggests that the majority of party systems in advanced democracies fails to meet a critical premise of democratic elections as instruments of policy-based accountability and representation.