Do Citizens Feel Well Represented?

By Katherine V. R. Sullivan, Université de Montréal

What is the story?

Elections are designed to ensure that citizens’ views are taken into account by the political decision-makers. The hope is that voters will support the candidates/parties that represent their viewpoints and that as a consequence their views will have an indirect influence on the decisions that are made. But do citizens think that elections work as they should, that is, that the outcome of an election is a good reflection of public opinion? Do they feel that their views are well represented in the legislature?


I examine feelings of representation across 27 elections within 5 countries (Switzerland, France, Spain, Germany and Canada) at the national, supra-national and sub-national levels by using data from the Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project.

I measure respondents’ feelings of representation by combining two survey questions. The first question “How well do you think your views are reflected in the legislature of the province/state/canton/country?” is on a scale from 0 (not at all) to 10 (totally). The second question, also on a scale from 0 (not accurate at all) to 10 (very accurate) goes as follows “How accurately do you think the outcome of the election reflects voters’ views?” I use the mean score given to these two questions.


Table 1 shows that overall evaluations of representation tend to be slightly positive. The mean is above 5 in 19 cases and below the mid-point in only 8 instances. Voters were most positive with respect to the Bavaria national and regional elections, whereas judgments are most negative in the case of the European elections in Provence and Madrid.

Table 1: Mean score by election



Bavaria national 6.20 (0.03)
Bavaria regional 6.15 (0.03)
Ontario national 6.01 (0.05)
British-Colombia National 5.88 (0.05)
Lucerne National 5.87 (0.06)
Zurich Regional 5.84 (0.06)
Lower Saxony Regional 5.81 (0.07)
Lucerne Regional 5.78 (0.05)
Lower Saxony National 5.69 (0.08)
Quebec National 5.58 (0.05)
Zurich national 5.48 (0.72)
Paris Municipal 5.45 (0.07)
IDF national 5.40 (0.07)
Lower Saxony Europe 5.23 (0.08)
Quebec regional 5.13 (0.07)
Provence national 5.09 (0.07)
Catalonia regional 5.08 (0.07)
Ontario regional 5.06 (0.07)
Bavaria Europe 5.00 (0.04)
Marseille municipal 4.96 (0.09)
Madrid Regional 4.94 (0.07)
Catalonia Europe 4.81 (0.07)
IDF Europe 4.70 (0.07)
Madrid National 4.67 (0.08)
Catalonia national 4.52 (0.07)
Provence Europe 4.51 (0.07)
Madrid Europe 4.34 (0.07)

Standard deviation presented in parentheses

Table 2 indicates that the Swiss and German electorates have the most positive perceptions and Spaniards the most negative.

Table 2: Mean score by country



Switzerland 5.90 (0.03)
Germany 5.87 (0.02)
Canada 5.62 (0.03)
France 5.02 (0.03)
Spain 4.73 (0.03)

Standard deviation presented in parentheses

Finally, Table 3 shows that citizens tend to be more positive overall about representation at the national and sub-national level and feel more negative about the supra-national level.

Table 3: Mean score by level



National 5.73 (0.02)
Sub-national 5.67 (0.02)
Supranational 4.82 (0.25)

Standard deviation presented in parentheses


All in all citizens from Switzerland, Germany and Canada have slightly positive views about the representative process while Spaniards are slightly negative. Judgments do not differ between the national and the subnational levels but Europeans are somewhat negative about the European level.

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