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  • Print publication year: 2005
  • Online publication date: December 2009

5 - Electoral Systems

Summary

Electoral laws and regulations structure opportunities for party competition within each country. Building upon the framework developed in the previous chapter, here we can focus upon the final stage in the pursuit of elected office, including the impact of the major type of electoral system, the effective threshold, and the use of compulsory voting. Using the same approach, this chapter analyzes the impact of these formal rules on the electoral fortunes of radical right parties, measured by their national share of votes and seats in legislative elections in the nations under comparison. Much attention in the literature has focused on how electoral systems shape party competition; in particular the use of proportional representation (PR) is often regarded as a necessary, although not sufficient, condition facilitating opportunities for extremist parties. Yet the evidence needs to be reexamined because, although widely assumed, the validity of this claim has been challenged. Moreover the contrast is not simply between all majoritarian and all proportional electoral systems, since important variations exist among nations using PR: for example, Israel's combination of a single nationwide constituency with a low legal vote threshold (1.5%) allows the election of far more minor and fringe parties than Poland, which has a 7% legal vote threshold and fifty-two small electoral districts for party lists. As a result, we also need to examine the effects of specific components of electoral systems, such as the impact of any national legal or effective threshold of exclusion, the mean district magnitude, and the level of proportionality.