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Materiale didattico per il corso di Politica comparata del prof. Marco Giuliani. Trattasi dell'articolo di Pippa Norris dal titolo "Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems" all'interno del quale sono analizzate le caratteristiche dei diversi sistemi elettorali in relazione alle esigenze di riforma del... Vedi di più

Esame di Politica comparata docente Prof. M. Giuliani



constituencies are widespread throughout Europe, and worldwide 57 out of 150 countries use PR (Inter-

Parliamentary Union 1993). The principle of proportional representation is that the seats in a constituency

are divided according to the number of votes cast for party lists, but there are considerable variations in

how this is implemented in different systems. Party lists may be open as in Norway, Finland, the

Netherlands and Italy, in which case voters can express preferences for particular candidates within the

list. Or they may be closed as in Israel, Portugal, Spain and Germany, in which case voters can only

select the party, and the political party determines the ranking of candidates. The rank order on the party

list determines which candidates are elected, for example the top ten to fifteen names. Party Lists may

also be national as in Israel, where all the country is one constituency divided into 120 seats. But most

Party Lists are regional, as in Belgium where there are seven regions each sub-divided into between 2-34

seats. The electoral formula varies among systems. Votes can be allocated to seats based on the

highest averages method. This requires the number of votes for each party to be divided successively by

a series of divisors, and seats are allocated to parties that secure the highest resulting quotient, up to the

total number of seats available. The most widely used is the d’Hondt formula, using divisors (such as

1,2,3 etc). The 'pure' Saint-Laguë method divides the votes with odd numbers (1,3,5,7 etc). The

'modified' Saint-Laguë replace the first divisor by 1.4 but is otherwise identical to the pure version.

An alternative is the largest remainder methods, which uses a minimum quota, which can be

calculated, in a number of ways. In the simplest with the Hare quota, used in Denmark and Costa Rica,

the total number of valid votes in each constituency is divided by the total number of seats to be

allocated. The Droop quota, used in South Africa and Greece, raises the divisor by the number of seats

plus one, producing a slightly less proportional result.

Mixed Systems

Additional Member System

Lastly many newer systems, such as those recently adopted in Italy, New Zealand and Russia,

use mixed systems, although with a variety of alternative designs. The Additional Member System used in

Germany combines single member and party list constituencies. Electors have two votes. Half

the Members of the Bundestag (328) are elected in single-member constituencies based on a simple

plurality of votes. The remaining MPs are elected from closed party lists in each region (Land). Parties,

which receive, less than a specified minimum threshold of list votes (5 per cent) are not be entitled to

any seats. The total number of seats, which a party receives in Germany, is based on the Niemeyer

method, which ensures that seats are proportional to second votes cast for party lists. Smaller parties

which received, say, 10 per cent of the list vote, but which did not win any single member seats outright,

are topped up until they have 10 per cent of all the seats in Parliament. It is possible for a party to be

allocated 'surplus' seats when it wins more district seats in the single-member district vote than it is

entitled to under the result of the list vote.

The Normative Criteria of Evaluation

The debate about electoral reform has largely revolved around the practical consequences of

incremental changes to the status quo. But underlying these arguments are contested visions about the

fundamental principles of representative democracy (see Dunleavy and Margetts 1995). The heart of the

debate concerns the central criteria, which an electoral system should meet, and whether strong and

accountable government is more or less important than the inclusion of minority voices.

Government Effectiveness

For proponents of majoritarian system the most important criteria are government effectiveness.

For admirers, the system of first-past-the-post in parliamentary systems produces the classic

'Westminster model' with the twin virtues of strong but responsive party government. ‘Strong’ in this

sense means single-party, not coalition, government. Cohesive parties with a majority of parliamentary


seats are able to implement their manifesto policies without the need to engage in post-election

negotiations with coalition partners. The election result is decisive for the outcome. Cabinet government

can pass whatever legislation they feel is necessary during their term of office, so long as they can carry

their own backbenchers with them. Strong government depends on an exaggerative bias in the

electoral system, which rewards the winner with a bonus of seats. A ‘manufactured majority’ is created

by translating a relatively small lead in votes into a larger lead of seats in parliament. In the postwar

period, for example, British governments have received, on the average, 45 percent of the popular vote

but 54 percent of seats. Even in a close election, where the major parties were level pegging, one

party has usually been able to form a government independent of any coalition partners (see Norris


Responsive and Accountable Government

Yet governments are also seen as 'responsive'. At the end of their tenure in office governments

remain accountable to the electorate, who can throw them out if they so wish. In a competitive two-party

system a small swing in the popular vote is sufficient to bring the opposition into office. This system can

be envisaged as a pulley-and-weights mechanism: a modest pull on the electoral rope produces a

disproportionate displacement of weight. For proponents the twin virtues mean power is shackled with

accountability. Governments are given enough freedom to carry out unpopular policies, if necessary;

during their full term in office and at the end the electorate can form a clear judgment of their policy

record. In addition, at the local level the link between citizens and their constituency MP is thought to

provide citizens with a voice in the nation's affairs, as well as making elected members accountable to

constituency concerns. Conventional wisdom suggests that there is greater incentive for constituency

service in single-member districts than in large multi-member constituencies.

Responsive government, and responsive members, depends upon the rate of potential seat

turnover, and a delicate two-party equilibrium. If substantial numbers of government backbenchers have

majorities of, say, fewer than 10 per cent over they’re nearest rival, a relatively modest swing of the vote

could easily bring the opposition into power. Although governments have a parliamentary majority to take

tough and effective decisions, they knew that their power could easily be withdrawn at the next election.

In contrast, proponents argue, in systems with coalition governments even if the public becomes

dissatisfied with particular parties they have less power to determine their fate. The process of coalition

building after the result, not the election per se, determines the allocation of seats in Cabinet.

Fairness to minor parties

For advocates of majoritarian elections, responsible party government takes precedence over the

inclusion of all parties in strict proportion to their share of the vote. In this view the primary purpose of

general elections is for parliament to function as an indirect electoral college, which produces an effective,

stable government. Proponents can see the way that the system penalizes minor parties as a virtue. It

prevents fringe groups on the extreme right or left from acquiring representative legitimacy, thereby

avoiding a fragmented parliament full of 'fads and faddists'. Yet at the same time if the electorate

becomes divided between three or four parties competing nation-wide, the disproportional of the electoral

system becomes far harder to justify. Smaller parties, which consistently come second or third, are

harshly penalized.

Rather than majoritarian governments, advocates of proportional systems argue that other

considerations are more important, including the fairness of the outcome for minor parties, the need for

Madisonian checks to party government, and the representation of minority social groups. For critics of

plurality systems, the moral case for reform is based traditionally on the 'unfairness' to minor parties

who achieve a significant share of the vote, like the Canadian Progressive Conservatives in 1993, or the

Alliance party in New Zealand in 1993, or the British Liberal Democrats in 1983, but who win few seats

because their support is thinly spread geographically. In addition, proponents argue, because fewer

votes are 'wasted' in a PR system there is a greater incentive for people to turn out to vote.


Social Representation

Demands for change have also been generated in recent decades by increasing concern about

the social composition of parliament. Political systems systematically under-represent certain social

groups in terms of class, race and gender. In 1995 women were only 9.4 percent of national legislators

worldwide, and this proportion has declined in recent years (Inter-Parliamentary Union 1995). But within

democracies there are substantial variations in this pattern, and women have usually lagged furthest

behind in countries using majoritarian systems (Norris 1996). Parties concerned about this issue have

considered various strategies including legally binding gender-quotas (used in Argentina for the

Senate), dual-member constituencies designated by gender, and most commonly affirmative action in

party organizations. Some of these mechanisms can be adopted in single-member districts, (for example

in the mid-nineties the British Labour party experimented with all-women shortlists for nomination in half

its target marginal). But affirmative action is easiest when applied to balancing the social composition of

party lists (for example, designating every other position on the list for male or female candidates, or

balancing the list by region, occupation, or religion) (Lovenduski and Norris 1993). These mechanisms

can also serve other political minorities based on regional, linguistic, ethnic or religious cleavages,

although the effects depend upon the spatial concentration of such groups. Therefore debates about

electoral reform have often produced conflict about means (what would be the effects on party fortunes of

alternative systems?) but even more fundamentally about ends (what is the primary objective of the

electoral system?). In order to examine these claims we need to go on to consider what consequences

flow from the adoption of alternative systems.

The Consequences of Electoral Systems

A large literature has attempted to examine the impact of alternative electoral systems. The most

important consequences which will be examined here include the election of parties to parliament, the

proportionality of votes to seats, the production of coalition or single-party governments, the

representation of social groups, levels of electoral turnout, and the provision of constituency services. To

analyze these factors we will compare the election result for legislative office in the most recent election

(mid-nineties) in fifty-three democracies, with data drawn from Leduc, Neimi and Norris (1996). These

democracies included 17 majoritarian systems, 12 mixed or semi-proportional systems, and 24 countries

with proportional representation.

The Impact on the Party System

One of Duverger's most famous claims is that, in a law-like relationship, the plurality rule favors a

two-party system while proportional systems lead to multipartyism (Duverger 1955). This raises the

question of what is to ‘count’ as a party, in particular how to count very small parties. In recent years

Lijphart (1994) reexamined the evidence for this thesis. The study compared 27 advanced industrialized

democracies in 1945-90 based on the Laakso and Taagepera measure of the 'effective number of

parliamentary parties' (ENPP), which takes account not only of the number of parties but also the relative

size of each. Lijphart found that the ENPP was 2.0 in plurality systems, 2.8 in majority and 3.6 in

proportional systems. Within proportional systems he found that the minimum threshold of votes also has

an effect on the inclusion of minor parties.


We can use the same measure to extend the analysis to a wider range of democracies including

developing and developed societies, in the most recent election in the mid-1990s. The results of this

comparison show that the effective number of parliamentary parties was 3.1 in majoritarian systems, 3.9

in mixed or semi-proportional systems, and 4.0 in proportional systems (see Diagram 2). Duverger's law

that PR is associated with multipartyism finds further confirmation from this analysis although, as

discussed earlier, smaller parties can do well under first-past-the-post if their support is spatially

concentrated. 7

The Proportionality of Votes to Seats

The proportionality of election results measures the degree to which the parties' share of seats

corresponds to their share of votes. Previous studies have found this to be significantly greater under PR

than under majoritarian systems (Jackson and Rose 1991; Lijphart 1994; Gallagher, Laver and Mair

1995). There are a number of ways of measuring proportionality, which reflect divergent notions of the

basic concept. One of the most elegant and simplest solutions is to measure the largest deviation in the

election result, which will generally be the percentage over-representation of the largest party

(Lijphart 1994). As discussed earlier majoritarian systems provide a winner’s bonus for the party in first

place, while penalising others, so this provides one indication of disproportional. The results of this

measure suggest that the average winner’s bonus under majoritarian systems is 12.5 percentage points,

compared with 7.4 under mixed systems, and 5.7 percent under proportional representation. Hence

under majoritarian electoral systems a party which won 37.5 percent of the vote or more could usually be

assured of a parliamentary majority in seats, whereas under PR systems a party would normally require

46.3 percent of the vote or more to achieve an equivalent result.

The Production of Single-Party or Coalition Governments

The classic argument for majoritarian systems is that they tend to produce stable and responsible

single-party governments, so that the electoral outcome is decisive. In contrast, unless one party wins a

majority of votes, PR is closely associated with coalition cabinets. A survey of twenty countries found that

single-party governments were formed after 60 percent of majoritarian elections, but only 10 percent of

PR elections (Blais and Carty 1987). If we compare the parliamentary democracies in this analysis

56.3 percent of elections under majoritarian systems produced single-party governments, compared with

36.4 percent of elections under mixed systems, and 34.8 percent of PR elections. In countries with PR

and fragmented party systems, like Italy, the Netherlands and Switzerland, all governments tend to be

coalitions. But majoritarian electoral systems can also result in coalition governments, such as in Britain

between the wars. Moreover PR systems may also have single-party governments, such as long periods

of dominance by the Austrian Socialists, the Norwegian Labour party, and the Swedish Social Democrats.

The pattern of government formation is therefore far more complex than any simple linear relationship

might lead us to expect (Laver and Shepsle 1995), although as expected there is a significant

relationship between the production of single party governments and majoritarian electoral systems.

The Provision of Constituency Service

A further claim of single-member majoritarian systems is that these promote casework, since MPs

are elected from a specific district. Members should also have incentives for such service where they

compete with others within their party in multi-member systems like STV and the Single Non-Transferable

Vote. In contrast closed party list systems should provide limited incentives for members to engage in

such activities, and limited opportunities for citizens to contact 'their' representatives. Unfortunately

there are few systematic cross-national studies of casework to confirm these propositions, and previous

studies, which do exist, have proved skeptical about any simple and direct relationship between the type

of electoral system and the degree of casework (Bogdanor 1985; Gallagher, Laver and Mair 1995).

The 1994 European Representation Study provides some limited evidence; since candidates for

the European Parliament (N.1308) were asked to rate the importance of various tasks they might face as

an MEP, using a scale from 'not very important' (1) to ‘very important’ (7). These tasks included

casework, defined broadly as 'helping individuals with particular problems’. The results indicate that

casework emerged as most important for parliamentary candidates from Britain (ranked 5.5 in

importance), which is the only country using a majoritarian system for European elections. Nevertheless

there was considerable variation within proportional systems, since this work was also highly rated by

candidates from Germany (5.3), Ireland (4.8) and Denmark (4.4), while it was regarded as less important

by candidates from Luxembourg (3.6), France (3.5), and Italy (2.9). We need further research about

orientations to casework across a range of countries with different electoral systems to explore these

issues more systematically. 8

The Impact on Electoral Turnout

The standard assumption from previous studies is to expect turnout to be slightly higher in

proportional systems (Powell 1986; Jackman 1986; Blais and Carty 1991; Black 1991). The reasons are

that as a fairer system, since there are no 'wasted votes', people may be more willing to participate. PR

also increases the number of parties and therefore the choices available to the electorate. Moreover PR

makes elections more competitive, so parties may have greater incentive to try to maximize their support

in all constituencies. The evidence in this comparison confirms this relationship: turnout averaged 65.4

percent in majoritarian systems, 71.2 percent in mixed or semi-proportional systems, and 75.7 percent in

proportional systems (See Diagram 3). This participation gap was not so great among established

democracies but it proved particularly significant among developing countries.

The Representation of Social Groups

One central virtue of proportional systems is the claim that they are more likely to produce a

parliament, which reflects the composition of the electorate (Norris 1995). District magnitude is seen as

particularly important in this regard. The main reason is that parties may have an incentive to produce a

'balanced' ticket to maximize their support where they have to present a party list, whereas in contrast

there is no such incentive where candidates are selected for single-member districts. Moreover

measures of affirmative action within party recruitment processes can be implemented more easily in

systems with party lists. [DIAGRAM 4 ABOUT HERE]

In this regard it is difficult to compare the representation of ethnic or religious minorities, which

depend in part upon the spatial distribution of these groups, but we can contrast the representation of

women across systems. Based on the proportion of women in the lower house in the mid-nineties the

results confirm that women are better represented in proportional systems. Women were 7.3 percent of

MPs in majoritarian systems, 13.2 percent in mixed or semi-proportional systems, and 17.2 percent of

members in PR systems. Of course again the pattern was not linear, (see Diagram 4) and more women

were elected in some majoritarian systems like Canada than in other countries like Israel using highly

proportional systems. The cultural context, and especially the process of recruitment within parties

strongly influence the opportunities for women in elected office (Lovenduski and Norris 1993).

Nevertheless the electoral system functions as a facilitating mechanism, which allows for easier

implementation of measures within parties, like affirmative action for female candidates.

Conclusion: Choosing an Electoral System

Often the choice of electoral system seems mechanistic - constitutional engineering designed to

bring about certain objectives. But the issue of how the electoral system functions have consequences,

which reflect essentially, contested concepts of representative democracy. For advocates of responsible

party government the most important considerations are that elections (not the subsequent process of

coalition building) should be decisive for the outcome. The leading party should be empowered to try to

implement their programme during their full term of office, without depending upon the support of minority

parties. The government, and individual MPs, remains accountable for their actions to the public. And at

periodic intervals the electorate should be allowed to judge their record, and vote for alternative parties

accordingly. Minor parties in third or fourth place are discriminated against for the sake of governability.

In this perspective proportional elections can produce indecisive outcomes, unstable regimes,

disproportionate power for minor parties in ‘kingmaker’ roles, and a lack of clear-cut accountability

and transparency in decision-making.

In contrast proponents of proportional systems argue that the electoral system should promote a

process of conciliation and coalition building within government. Parties above a minimum threshold

should be included in the legislature in rough proportion to their level of electoral support. The parties in

government should therefore craft policies based on a consensus among the coalition partners.

Moreover the composition of parliament should reflect the main divisions in the social composition of the





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Materiale didattico per il corso di Politica comparata del prof. Marco Giuliani. Trattasi dell'articolo di Pippa Norris dal titolo "Choosing Electoral Systems: Proportional, Majoritarian and Mixed Systems" all'interno del quale sono analizzate le caratteristiche dei diversi sistemi elettorali in relazione alle esigenze di riforma del sistema britannico.

Corso di laurea: Corso di laurea in scienze internazionali e istituzioni europee
Università: Milano - Unimi
A.A.: 2011-2012

I contenuti di questa pagina costituiscono rielaborazioni personali del Publisher Atreyu di informazioni apprese con la frequenza delle lezioni di Politica comparata e studio autonomo di eventuali libri di riferimento in preparazione dell'esame finale o della tesi. Non devono intendersi come materiale ufficiale dell'università Milano - Unimi o del prof Giuliani Marco.

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