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Designing Electoral Districts for Proportional Representation Systems: How Electoral Geography and Partisan Politics Constrain Proportionality and Create Bias


Walter, André; Emmenegger, Patrick (2023). Designing Electoral Districts for Proportional Representation Systems: How Electoral Geography and Partisan Politics Constrain Proportionality and Create Bias. The Journal of Politics, 85(3):1123-1138.

Abstract

Proportional representation (PR) electoral systems have become widespread because they are expected to ensure the representation of interests with small or geographically inefficiently distributed voter bases. Yet in reality, most PR systems consist of a large number of districts that vary substantially in size, and some have surprisingly low magnitude. Existing research shows that such differences matter greatly for political outcomes but offers no explanation for their origins. We argue that the design of electoral districts in newly adopted PR systems is systematically linked to electoral geography and partisan politics. If parties with concentrated voter bases can influence the design of the new electoral system, they will create a significant number of low-magnitude districts. In general, parties involved in designing districts benefit from electoral disproportionalities under the new PR rules. Empirically, we use newly collected district-level data for several Western European countries in the early twentieth century.

Abstract

Proportional representation (PR) electoral systems have become widespread because they are expected to ensure the representation of interests with small or geographically inefficiently distributed voter bases. Yet in reality, most PR systems consist of a large number of districts that vary substantially in size, and some have surprisingly low magnitude. Existing research shows that such differences matter greatly for political outcomes but offers no explanation for their origins. We argue that the design of electoral districts in newly adopted PR systems is systematically linked to electoral geography and partisan politics. If parties with concentrated voter bases can influence the design of the new electoral system, they will create a significant number of low-magnitude districts. In general, parties involved in designing districts benefit from electoral disproportionalities under the new PR rules. Empirically, we use newly collected district-level data for several Western European countries in the early twentieth century.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > Institute of Political Science
Dewey Decimal Classification:320 Political science
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Sociology and Political Science
Uncontrolled Keywords:Sociology and Political Science
Language:English
Date:1 July 2023
Deposited On:14 Sep 2023 15:06
Last Modified:30 Mar 2024 04:39
Publisher:University of Chicago Press
ISSN:0022-3816
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1086/723975