by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter Eleven: Elections

Chapter Notes

  • Scope and franchise: how many elected offices? Second-order elections – results depend on first-order contests. Too many elections depresses turnout. Who can vote? Should 16- and 17-year olds, prisoners and non-citizens resident be included? EU residents can vote in local elections in any EU country in which they are resident.
  • Electing legislatures. Non-proportional systems represent territory: plurality and majority methods. The seats bonus for the largest party under the plurality method. The possibility of the party with most votes not gaining most seats. Tactical voting. Gerrymandering. The alternative vote; two-round systems.
  • Proportional representation for representing parties and assemblies. Party lists. Open and closed lists, district magnitude and thresholds.
  • Mixed member proportional systems e.g. Germany: the best of both worlds? Parallel system: mixed member majoritarian (non-proportional).
  • The impact of electoral systems on party systems: Duverger. Mechanical and psychological effects. But multiparty systems probably facilitate more than they reflect proportional representation.
  • Electing presidents: predominance of majority system. Indirect election. Distribution requirements and failed elections. Term limits and their consequences. Concurrency between presidential and legislative elections.
  • Electoral reform, and the trend to PR. The design of electoral systems: the case for party list PR.
  • Election campaigns: the limited impact of the short campaign on the outcome, despite later decision-making by voters in the final third of the twentieth century. Gross change tends to cancel out and conversions between major parties remain uncommon. Still, campaigns are educative, not least for politicians themselves.
  • The message of the campaign is constructed after the result, with an emphasis on the positive attributes of the winner. These interpretations are presented in terms of mandates though most mandate claims are dubious.
  • Referendums, initiatives and recalls. Referendums: employed for constitutional and moral issues. Safety-valve function. Easily manipulated. Reluctance of voters to embrace change. Agenda and referendum initiatives. The recall is less common though available in Venezuela.
  • Elections in authoritarian states: communist contests as an opportunity for lectures by party agitators. Constrained competition in authoritarian states; techniques for disadvantaging the opposition. Role of elections in allowing the centre to monitor popularity of local politicians.
  • Elections in competitive authoritarian regimes: elections are made rather than stolen. Manipulation of the media. Role of patronage in buying and maintaining support. Some intimidation of opponents. The Russian case.

Figures and tables

Multiple choice questions

Essays and term papers

  1. 'The best of both worlds.’ Examine this assessment of mixed electoral systems.
  2. What role should referendums play in a representative democracy?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch. 11.

J. Colomer, Handbook of Electoral System Choice
R. Dalton and M. Wattenberg, Politics without Partisans
D. Farrell, Electoral Systems: A Comparative Introduction
M. Gallagher and P. Mitchell, The Politics of Electoral Systems
B. Geissel and K. Newton, Evaluating Democratic Innovations: Curing the Democratic Malaise
K. Jennings and T. Mann, Elections at Home and Abroad
L. LeDuc, R. Niemi and P. Norris, Comparing Democracies 3: Elections and Voting in Global Perspective
M. Qvortrup, A Comparative Study of Referendums: Government by the People

  • Inter-Parliamentary Union - the PARLINE database provides election results
  • International Federation for Electoral Systems - supports the building of democratic societies
  • Center for Voting and Democracy - promotes voter turnout, fair representation, inclusive policy and meaningful electoral choices in the USA
  • Parties and Elections in Europe - the results of legislative elections from all European countries and more than 100 subdivisions.
  • International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance - supports sustainable democracy worldwide.
  • Adam Carr’s Election Archive (Psephos) - a comprehensive archive of election results

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