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Electoral Systems and Constituency Representation

dinsdag, 8 februari, 2011 - 15:00
Campus: Brussels Humanities, Sciences & Engineering campus
Faculteit: Social Sciences and Solvay Business School
Audrey André

How and to what extent is the constituency representation of elected representatives shaped by
the electoral rules? Much of what legislators do does not involve voting over policy in
parliament. Elected representatives across the globe assist individual voters in their dealings with
public authorities, visit hospitals and factories, speak at debate nights, and go to the local team’s
game. In studying the variety of ways in which representatives seek to connect to and
communicate with their constituents, this dissertation bridges the two dominant approaches
applied to studying legislative behaviour: rational choice and institutionalism. The rules
determining how votes convert into seats not only have important mechanical effects. Elected
representatives respond strategically to the incentives and constraints the formal rules generate.
Central to legislators’ calculations, Carey and Shugart (1995) famously argued, is the relative
value of personal reputations compared to party reputations for obtaining re-election. In
particular, legislators’ incentive to seek out personal votes among constituents is expected to
decrease with district magnitude in closed-list systems, but increase with the number of copartisan
competitors in open-list systems. The dissertation theoretically revisits Carey and
Shugart’s oft-cited model and puts it to the test using a variety of data sources.

The results clearly demonstrate that electoral institutions matter: legislators’ commitment to
constituency representation varies considerably with the electoral rules they compete under. In
closed-list systems, the effect district magnitude has on various constituency-oriented actions
was found to be invariably negative. In open-list systems, by contrast, a straightforward positive
relation could not be discerned: while the incentive to cultivate a personal reputation among
constituents increases with the scope of co-partisan competition, legislators’ decision to engage
in any given constituency-oriented action is conditional upon the specific nature of that action.
The findings provide a cautionary note to electoral engineers seeking to strengthen the ties
between constituents and their representatives. The psychological effects district magnitude has
on representatives are manifold and at times even contradictory. Path dependencies, cultural
expectations, and the wider institutional context only add to the complexity. The representative
relation was shown to be a dynamic two-way process in which constituents’ preferences for good
constituency members interact with what elected representatives do in terms of constituency
service. In addition, multi-level systems of government have an effect on legislators’
commitment to constituency representation that is independent of differences in the electoral
conditions they face.

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