This chapter addresses the various concepts of political representation, such as substantive, descriptive, and symbolic. It then examines which institutions foster different types of representation. It presents two different visions of democracy: proportional and majoritarian. It considers what they imply for congruence and responsiveness. The chapter delves deeper into descriptive representation by looking at the representation of women across legislatures. When considering symbolic representation it looks at action taken by members of parliament. The chapter asks the basic question: to what extent, and in what ways, does a political system represent its citizens?
This chapter focuses on the two main opportunities that people have to vote in most societies: elections and referendums. Elections are held to fill seats in parliaments or to choose a president, whereas referendums allow citizens to decide directly on some issue of policy. Elections are the cornerstone of representative democracy, and referendums are sometimes regarded as the equivalent of ‘direct democracy’. In practice, referendums are used only as an option in systems of representative democracy. The chapter first provides an overview of elections and electoral systems, focusing on electoral regulations and the main categories of electoral systems, namely single-member plurality, alternative vote, two-round system, and proportional representation. It then examines the rules under which elections are held, as well as the consequences of this variation. It also considers the use of the referendum and its potential impact on politics.
This chapter starts off with an overview of the institutions that decide how citizens cast ballots, firstly, in elections, and secondly, directly for policy. The former is related to electoral systems and the latter to direct democracy. The chapter considers the implications of these institutions for party systems and political representation from the view point of the principal–agent framework. There is a large variety of electoral systems used in Europe. Most elections are held using the system of proportional representation. However, there are important institutional differences that need to be remembered. The chapter then goes on to examine the effects of electoral systems on the party system. This is carried out with electoral change over time in mind. Finally, the chapter turns to direct democracy and analyses the use of referendums, specifically with regard to the question of the European Union (EU).