How do people react to the ‘performance’ of the party they voted for?

By Shane P. Singh, University of Georgia

Note: an extended version of this blog post appeared earlier at Democratic Audit UK

What is the story?

On Election Day, vote shares translate into seats and power in accordance with the electoral rules. In the end, some parties perform well, others do not, and a new government is formed. In the days or weeks following the election, it is not uncommon to see supporters of the parties in power express satisfaction with the democratic process, while those whose voices remain unrepresented in government express their disappointment.

In a paper forthcoming in Party Politics, we examine how the performance of the party one voted for affects his or her degree of satisfaction with the way democracy works. Our goals are (a) to determine whether those whose party performed well in the election become more satisfied with democracy after the election and (b) to shed light on which aspects of party performance matter most.

Data

We use 13 panel election studies that were conducted for the Making Electoral Democracy Work project. Each study was run between 2011 and 2013, and the surveys encompass ten regions within five countries: Canada, France, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland. The surveys each include two waves, usually with about 1,000 persons responding to the pre-election questionnaire in the last two weeks of the campaign and about 800 of them responding to the post-election questionnaire immediately after the election.

Both waves include a question asking respondents how satisfied they are with the way democracy works in their region or country (depending on the type of election). Since we have measures of satisfaction just before and after the election, we are quite confident that any changes observed between the two waves can be attributed to the election outcome rather than some other unobserved factor(s).

Results

We find, without much surprise, that people who voted for parties that were more successful in terms of votes or legislative seats became more satisfied with democracy. But, taking our analyses a step further, we also observe that those who voted for parties that received many votes but few seats—that is, parties that were underrepresented in parliament—became more dissatisfied. This is illustrated in the below figure.

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Conclusions

A number of interpretations and predictions can be drawn from our results. For example, we find that satisfaction with democracy is sensitive to representation biases introduced by the electoral system. Indeed, satisfaction with democracy can decrease when a voter supports a party that turns out to be underrepresented in the legislature, as compared to the proportion of votes it obtained. This suggests that voters are more satisfied—or at least less dissatisfied—when seats are proportional to votes.

Yet, our findings also present a challenge to this interpretation. Our analyses show that voters do not show the same dissatisfaction when representation biases lean in their favor. On the contrary, our models suggest that, if two parties were to obtain the same share of votes but a different share of seats, those voters who supported the advantaged party would experience a bigger increase in satisfaction. In short, voters’ reactions to representation biases depend on whether their party is advantaged or disadvantaged in a quite predictable way.

For further details, see André Blais, Alexandre Morin-Chassé, and Shane P. Singh. Forthcoming. Election outcomes, legislative representation, and satisfaction with democracy. Party Politics.

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