The Personal(ized) Vote and Parliamentary Representation

Research question/goal: 

Electoral systems define how voters cast their ballots and how seats are allocated. Therefore, they shape the extent to which representation is based on persons or parties. This project examined the consequences of “personalizing” electoral systems for the behaviour of individual members of parliament.

In contrast to most existing studies, which are based on cross-national comparisons and struggle with separating the effects of the electoral system type from those of other country-level variables, this project studied the impact of electoral reforms that were recently implemented in the Czech Republic and Sweden. These countries use flexible list electoral systems and changed specific rules (preference vote threshold, in the Czech Republic also the number of votes) in a way that made it easier for candidates to be elected on the basis of their personal appeal rather than due to their list position.

The empirical work started from approx. 20 qualitative interviews with parliamentarians, but mainly built on quantitative analysis of the scope and content of parliamentary work (legislative bills, parliamentary questions) and individual voting records of all representatives serving in the pre- and post-reform parliaments. The large-N analysis also made use of longitudinal approaches towards causal inference from observational data.

The central finding is that the reforms had complex and overall rather limited effects. One reason is that the percentage point reduction of the preference vote threshold (which candidates need to reach in order to advance to the top of the post-electoral ranking) has different implications depending on the change in absolute number of votes, which again varies with the size of the party and the electoral district. A theoretical contribution of the project taking this into account is the concept of an Expected Post-Electoral Allocation Type for seat distribution within parties, which can vary across party-district units within flexible list systems. One of the empirical results is that candidate selectors within parties hold MPs accountable mainly through the threat of non-re-selection rather than by assigning them to a promising list position. While there is no evidence that voters consistently reward MPs’ parliamentary effort, the case of the Czech elections in 2010 shows that they may do so if the electoral context draws attention to individual parliamentary work.

Fact sheet

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