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We examine citizens' evaluations of majoritarian and proportional electoral outcomes through an innovative experimental design. We ask respondents to react to six possible electoral outcomes during the 2019 Canadian federal election campaign. There are two treatments: the performance of the party and the proportionality of electoral outcomes. There are three performance conditions: the preferred party's vote share corresponds to vote intentions as reported in the polls at the time of the survey (the reference), or it gets 6 percentage points more (fewer) votes. There are two electoral outcome conditions: disproportional and proportional. We find that proportional outcomes are slightly preferred and that these preferences are partly conditional on partisan considerations. In the end, however, people focus on the ultimate outcome, that is, who is likely to form the government. People are happy when their party has a plurality of seats and is therefore likely to form the government, and relatively unhappy otherwise. We end with a discussion of the merits and limits of our research design.
We study the impact of compulsory voting in Brazil, where voting is mandatory from age 18 to 70 and voluntary for those aged 16, 17 and 70+. Using a survey sample of 8008 respondents, we document voter confusion about how the age criterion applies. Some people falsely believe that what matters is one's age in an election year rather than on Election Day. Next, we perform a regression discontinuity (RD) analysis of compulsory voting among young voters with register-based data from six Brazilian elections (2008–2018). We find that the effect of compulsory voting is seriously underestimated if we focus solely on the discontinuities prescribed by the law. Our findings carry important implications for studies adopting the RD design where knowledge of the cutoff is expected of the units of interest (like those about compulsory voting) and confirm that compulsory voting is a strong institutional arrangement that promotes greater electoral participation.
We perform a survey experiment on the issue of immigration. People are presented with a situation where public opinion is at odds with the election promise. In our control group, no information is given about public opinion. In the treatment groups, respondents are told that 55 per cent or 80 per cent of the people are against the project. When respondents are informed about the election promise but are not told about public opinion, 64 per cent say that the party should fulfill its promise. That percentage drops to 51 per cent when people are informed that a slight majority (55 per cent) are opposed to the project and to 42 per cent when they are told that a strong majority (80 per cent) are opposed. Citizens thus believe that politicians should pay attention not only to the majority view but also to the size of that majority.
How should citizens be educated about complicated political issues like electoral reform? Are there basic principles that should be followed? This article tests one potential principle for government bodies, the media and educators to follow when conducting information campaigns: namely, lowering the reading level of information. Educators have long argued that texts can be confusing when written at a literacy level higher than the reader is able to digest. This article tests the impact of reading level on knowledge, interest and opinion on an electoral reform proposal. It employs an experimental design, conducted in person in fall 2018 with college students in Ontario, Canada. The experiment asked the students to read a text on a single transferable vote (STV) electoral system at one of three reading levels (or a control text) and then answer a series of questions gauging their knowledge, interest and opinion on the electoral reform proposal. The results provide an assessment of the impact of different levels of information on these factors and suggest concrete recommendations for election management bodies (EMBs) and other actors seeking to educate the public on complex political issues.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus was first identified in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, and it quickly spread to many countries. By March 2020, the virus had triggered a global pandemic (World Health Organization, 2020). In response to this crisis, governments have implemented unprecedented public health measures. The success of these policies will largely depend on the public's willingness to comply with new rules. A key factor in citizens’ willingness to comply is their understanding of the data that motivate government action. In this study, we examine how different ways of presenting these data visually can affect citizen's perceptions, attitudes and support for public policy.
The polls of the 2018 Quebec election forecast a close race between the two leading parties. The result, a clear victory of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) over the Parti libéral du Québec (PLQ), was clearly at odds with the polls. We argue that when the polls get it wrong, it is important to determine whether there was a polling miss, in which the discrepancy is due to changing voter behaviour, or a poll failure, in which the problem stems from polling methodology. Our post-election poll shows that changing voter behaviour—last-minute shifts and the vote of non-disclosers—explains most of the discrepancy. These movements varied by region. We conclude that the Quebec 2018 election was among the worst polling misses in history but not necessarily a major poll failure.
It is widely assumed that celebrities are imbued with political capital and the power to move opinion. To understand the sources of that capital in the specific domain of sports celebrity, we investigate the popularity of global soccer superstars. Specifically, we examine players’ success in the Ballon d’Or—the most high-profile contest to select the world’s best player. Based on historical election results as well as an original survey of soccer fans, we find that certain kinds of players are significantly more likely to win the Ballon d’Or. Moreover, we detect an increasing concentration of votes on these kinds of players over time, suggesting a clear and growing hierarchy in the competition for soccer celebrity. Further analyses of support for the world’s two best players in 2016 (Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo) show that, if properly adapted, political science concepts like partisanship have conceptual and empirical leverage in ostensibly non-political contests.
Through a panel analysis conducted in Bavaria, which covers two adjacent elections – the federal elections and the European elections in 2013 and 2014 – we examine the attitudinal factors that drive citizens’ propensity to turn out. We find that abstainers have generally low levels of knowledge, interest and sense of civic duty. National-level voters have relatively high interest, knowledge and sense of duty in national politics, but not in European affairs. In contrast, European- and national-level voters have high interest, knowledge and a sense of duty for both national and European politics. This finding contextualizes the characterization of European elections as second-order national elections. While prior research has established that voters make their vote choice based on national-level politics, we demonstrate that European elections are not national elections when it comes to citizens’ decision to vote. Rather, knowledge, interest and a sense of duty about national politics are not sufficient conditions for somebody to vote in the European elections. The person needs to have the same positive attitudes about European affairs as they have about national politics to participate in European elections.
We study data on the gender of more than 21,000 unique candidates in all Canadian federal elections since 1921, when the first women ran for seats in Parliament. This large data set allows us to compute precise estimates of the difference in the electoral fortunes of men and women candidates. When accounting for party effects and time trends, we find that the difference between the vote shares of men and women is substantively negligible (±0.5 percentage point). This gender gap was larger in the 1920s (±2.5 percentage points), but it is now statistically indistinguishable from zero. Our results have important normative implications: political parties should recruit and promote more women candidates because they remain underrepresented in Canadian politics and because they do not suffer from a substantial electoral penalty.
In this paper, we investigate the phenomenon of party switchers in the Canadian House of Commons. With the most extensive dataset on party-switching MPs (1867–2015), we answer the following questions: What are the electoral trajectories of party switchers? Have their prospects changed over time? We assess whether the historical dynamics of the Canadian party system explain changes in the incidence and fate of party switchers since 1867, hypothesizing that both the rate of party switching and the electoral fortunes of floor crossers decline over time. The evidence accords with our second hypothesis more strongly than our first. Party switching has become slightly less common, but the electoral consequence has become much more severe.
Political scientists, analysts and journalists alike have long believed that the degree of satisfaction with the functioning of democracy determines voter turnout. We use survey data from 24 panel studies to demonstrate that this causal relationship is actually reversed: voter turnout affects satisfaction with democracy. We also show that this reversed relationship is conditioned by election type, electoral system, and election outcomes. These findings are important because: (1) They question conventional wisdom and a large body of scientific literature; (2) They invite a more nuanced approach towards the study of the relationship between evaluations of regime performance and political participation; and (3) They emphasize the vital role of elections in shaping citizens’ perception of the democratic process.
We address two questions: How many voters particularly like a candidate from another party? And do these voters vote for their preferred party or their preferred candidate? We use the Making Electoral Democracy Work data for the 2015 Canadian federal election in three provinces (British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec). We find that one voter out of ten particularly liked a candidate from a party other than the one he or she preferred. For two out of five of such voters, the preference for the local candidate trumped the party preference.
Using official electoral results from provincial elections since 1973, we evaluate the incumbency effect in Quebec by measuring the impact of a combination of characteristics related to candidates and political parties. We verify whether the presence of an incumbent candidate is necessary to ensure that the incumbent party benefits from an electoral advantage. We also compare the magnitude of the incumbency effect between governing and opposition parties. Making use of parametric multivariate statistical tools, we conclude that political parties benefit from an electoral advantage in Quebec. Except for ministers who make a small difference, simple Members of the National Assembly (MNAs) do not improve their electoral performance, while in some cases new candidates with incumbent parties perform better.
It is a well-established finding that proportional representation (PR) electoral systems are associated with greater legislative representation for women than single member systems. However, the degree to which different types of PR rules affect voting for female candidates has not been fully explored. The existing literature is also hampered by a reliance on cross-national data in which individual vote preferences and electoral system features are endogenous. In this study, we draw upon an experiment conducted during the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections to isolate the effects of different PR electoral systems. Participants in the experiment were given the opportunity to vote for real EP candidates in three different electoral systems: closed list, open list, and open list with panachage and cumulation. Because voter preferences can be held constant across the three different votes, we can evaluate the extent to which female candidates were more or less advantaged by the electoral system itself. We find that voters, regardless of their gender, support female candidates, and that this support is stronger under open electoral rules.
There is abundant empirical evidence that the plurality rule constrains party competition and favors two-party systems. This reduction of party system fragmentation may be due to parties deciding not to enter elections for which they are not viable and/or voters voting strategically. Yet, no prior research has attempted to estimate the respective role of parties and voters in this process. To fill this gap, we conducted a unique laboratory experiment where some subjects played the role of parties and others played the role of voters, and where the two were able to respond to each other just as in real-life elections. We find that the reduction due to party strategic exit is higher than that due to strategic voting. We conclude that parties play a key role in the effect of the plurality rule on party system fragmentation.
Regret is a basic affect associated with individual choice. While much research in organizational science and consumer behavior has assessed the precedents and consequents of regret, little attention has been paid to regret in political science. The present study assesses the relationship between one of the most democratically consequential forms of political behavior—voting—and feelings of regret. We examine the extent to which citizens regret how they voted after doing so and the factors that might lead one individual to be more regretful than another. Relying on surveys in five different countries after 11 regional and national elections, we find not only that political information leads to a decrease in post-election regret, but also that having voted correctly, or having voted in accordance with one’s underlying preferences regardless of information, similarly mitigates regret. The effect of correct voting on regret is greater among the least informed.
Carey and Hix (2011) propose that a proportional electoral system with a moderate number of seats per district offers the best compromise between (1) accurate representation and (2) strong accountability. The argument is that there is a district magnitude (DM) level where the trade-off between proportionality and fragmentation of parties is optimal. This DM is called the sweet spot. We explore this proposition through lab experiments conducted in Brussels and Montreal. We find that the probability of achieving a “good” outcome on both proportionality and the number of parties is slightly higher at moderate DMs. We note, however, that this probability remains low.
We propose a new standard for evaluating the performance of electoral democracies: the correspondence between citizens’ party preferences and the party composition of governments that are formed after elections. We develop three criteria for assessing such correspondence: the proportion of citizens whose most preferred party is in government, whether the party that is most liked overall is in government, and how much more positively governing parties are rated than non-governing parties. We pay particular attention to the last criterion, which takes into account how each citizen feels about each of the parties as well as the intensity of their preferences. We find that proportional representation systems perform better on the first criterion. Majoritarian systems do better on the other two.
We study strategic voting behaviour in winner-take-all elections by means of an original study in which participants vote to collectively decide how much money should be given to an environmental NGO. We find that supporters of the most NGO-friendly party are reluctant to abandon it, despite its poor electoral viability. The poor electoral viability generates significant anxiety among its supporters and the level of anxiety at the time of voting influences their choice. Moderate levels of anxiety increase the probability of defection, but at high levels, anxiety has a paralyzing effect, making voters less likely to abandon their preferred choice.