Elections and electoral rules matter.

Whether people vote or not

Imagine how Canadian politics might have unfolded if the distortions in converting votes into seats produced by Canada’s electoral system had not contributed to the near-annihilation of the Progressive Conservative Party and the electoral breakthrough of two regionally-based parties (Reform in the West and the Bloc in Quebec) in the 1993 federal election.

How they vote

Imagine the outcome of the 2000 U.S. presidential election if Nader supporters had voted strategically for Gore rather than voting for their preferred candidate. Imagine the U.S. government’s response to Hurricane Katrina if the voter turnout of poor Americans matched that of their affluent counterparts.

The electoral rules of the game

The goal of the project is to examine how the rules of the game (especially the electoral system) and the electoral context (especially the competitiveness and salience of the election) influence the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between voters and parties.

The approaches

The project involves studying more than 20 elections in 5 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Spain, and Switzerland). The voting rules differ depending on the country and/or the type of election (national, supranational or subnational). This ambitious design is enabling us to see how the behaviour of both voters and political parties varies depending on the salience and competitiveness of elections and the type of voting rules under which they operate.

But we also want to understand why the rules of the game affect the behaviour of parties and voters. To do so, we have designed a series of innovative laboratory experiments.

The goal is to develop a better understanding of how electoral democracies actually function and of why they perform better in some contexts than in others.

In order to understand how the rules of the game and the electoral context affect party behaviour, we are conducting an intensive analysis of party strategies in twenty elections in the 5 different countries. Our innovative approach combines qualitative and quantitative methods to throw new light on the factors influencing party strategies and, hence, the options that are available to voters at election time.

With respect to voter behaviour, we are paying special attention to the decision to vote sincerely or strategically or to abstain. We also want to find out how voters themselves assess the rules under which they choose their representatives. To do so, we are surveying voters just before each of the elections and then again right after the election. In the German elections in Bavaria, we will be able to interview the same people in different elections at the national, sub-national, and supranational level.

A series of laboratory experiments are being conducted to complement our studies of party strategies and our voter surveys. The experiments are designed to isolate the impact of electoral institutions and/or contexts on the behaviour of parties and voters.

Project participants

Our project brings together an exceptional team of economists, political scientists, and psychologists from Canada, Europe, and the United States.

The project is benefiting from the input of a distinguished advisory board consisting of leading international scholars.