Making Electoral Democracy Work

Research question/goal: 

Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) was an international collaborative project that brought together political scientists, economists, and psychologists from Canada, Europe, and the United States. It was the most ambitious study ever undertaken of the impact of electoral rules on the functioning of democracy and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

The study implemented voter surveys across 18 elections at various levels of governance between 2011 and 2015 in Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland. The analyses were then completed by laboratory and online experiments. We systematically collected and coded a wide range of partisan material for the three months preceding those elections as well as information about the conduct of the campaign. This included the major campaign events, the polls released by the media, and the official announcements and conducted semi-structured interviews with party campaign managers to learn more about the strategies adopted by the parties.

The most influential framework for explaining multilevel electoral politics is the Second-Order Election (SOE) model. We found that there is a crucial kernel of truth in the SOE model: some elections are considered more important by both voters and parties, and voters behave differently depending on the importance of the election. Our central result was that the SOE model is right in stressing that voters are bound to pay less attention to elections they deem to be less important. However, the SOE model falls short in two key respects: it wrongly assumes that voters always consider national elections to be the most important and, equally critically, it neglects the role of political parties.

Fact sheet

Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada
2011 to 2017
Data Sources: 
secondary analysis, panel survey, experiments
Geographic Space: 
Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland



Golder, Sona N., Ignacio Lago, André Blais, Elisabeth Gidengil and Thomas Gschwend (2017): Multi-Level Electoral Politics. Beyond the Second-Order Election Model. Oxford: Oxford University Press. [Comparative Politics] more