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Cover Comparative Politics

11. Electoral systems and representation  

Orit Kedar

This chapter focuses on elections and representation. The first part focuses on electoral systems. It first presents the building blocks of electoral systems. Drawing on these building blocks, it then discusses the underlying principles of the two main families of electoral systems, namely majoritarian and proportional representation, and presents key variants within each family. The chapter then proceeds to discuss how different features of electoral systems affect the behaviour of both voters and politicians. The second part of the chapter addresses representation. It first lays out four different aspects of representation, followed by an elaboration on one particularly central aspect—substantive representation, which addresses the way representatives and government act for voters. Finally, the chapter’s third part analyses the trade-offs embedded in different electoral systems and discusses how different electoral systems promote some aspects of representation as well as other democratic values, and compromise others.

Chapter

Cover Foundations of European Politics

7. Representation  

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?

Chapter

Cover Comparative European Politics

1. Electoral Systems  

Jean-Benoit Pilet and Alan Renwick

This chapter examines the variety of electoral systems in Europe. Electoral systems lie at the heart of democratic politics, influencing who citizens’ representatives are and having profound effects upon politics at large. The authors start by presenting the variety of electoral systems used across Europe, focusing on three key dimensions: electoral formulas, district magnitudes, and ballot structures. Then they discuss some of the main developments in electoral systems in Europe since 1945, highlighting shifts towards limited proportional systems and more ‘personalized’ systems. Finally, they probe deeper into the consequences of electoral systems, looking at effects on the nature of competition both between and within political parties.

Chapter

Cover Foundations of European Politics

6. Electoral Systems and Direct Democracy  

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).

Chapter

Cover Comparative Politics

10. Elections and Referendums  

Michael Gallagher

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.