Voter Sophistication and Multiparty Bargaining

23.09.2019 - 12:00 to 13:30
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
AB B-Kolloquium
Prof. Lanny Martin
Lecturer affiliation: 
Bocconi University Milano

In most parliamentary democracies, political parties are forced to make policy decisions through a process of bargaining and compromise.  This process takes place before an audience of voters, and party leaders are aware that, to retain the support of their constituents, they must take into account how the coalition bargains they agree to might be perceived.  But not all voters are equal in terms of their capacity to evaluate the “quality” of bargains struck by party elites.  We argue that this fact should have a systematic impact on party behavior.  Specifically, we contend that parties with a less sophisticated voter base should be less sensitive to how constituents view bargaining outcomes than parties with a more sophisticated voter base.  To test our argument, we create an original measure of the relative sophistication of voters across parties and bargaining situations (based on 117 election surveys across 16 parliamentary democracies).  Then, we examine the first (and arguably, the most important) policy decision parties make following an election:  the choice of whether to join a government, and if so, with which parties.  In an analysis of 162 coalition bargaining situations, we show that legislative parties with less sophisticated voters are more likely to strike a compromise with other parties in order to enter government, and are more likely to choose partners that diverge from them on electorally salient issues.  Our findings have important implications for the quality of democratic representation in multiparty parliamentary systems, suggesting, in particular, that parties with a relatively uninformed electorate are generally less responsive to voter preferences.