Winning, Vote Choice, and Satisfaction with Democracy

by Shane Singh, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia

What is the story?

People are happier when they win. Those who voted for a winning party, for instance, may experience both tangible and intrinsic benefits associated with victory. The tangible benefit is the election of a party that will advocate for, and potentially pass, policies that the voter supports. The psychological benefit is the election of a party that the voter likes and to which he might feel attached.  Electoral losers, on the other hand, must endure the victory of a disliked party, and, potentially, the implementation of non-preferred policies.

In multiparty systems, coalition governments often form after an election. This means that a “winning” vote can come about through support of more than one party and begs the question: are all winners equal? In response to this question, André Blais, Ekrem Karakoç, and I conducted a study of the May 2010 election in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, after which a minority government between the Social Democratic Party (35% of seats) and the Greens (12% of seats) replaced an outgoing majority government of the Christian Democrats and the Free Democrats.

Finding 1: The impact of holding a parliamentary seat vs. a position in government

Those who voted for the Social Democrats or the Greens—the parties that went on the form the government—expressed the biggest rise in satisfaction after the election. Further, the size of the boost for Social Democrat and Green voters was very similar, which suggests that the number of seats has less of an impact than a spot in government on voter satisfaction with democracy. This is illustrated in Figure 1, below.

Finding 2: The impact at various levels of government

As also reported in Figure 1, these satisfaction boosts were not confined to the regional level. In fact, those who voted for the SPD and the Greens in the NRW election also expressed more satisfaction with democracy in Germany, and to a lesser extent, in the European Union.





Figure 1: The Effects of Vote Choice on Satisfaction

The MEDW data continues to come in, providing more and more pre- and post-election surveys conducted in conjunction with several other regional and national elections in Europe and Canada. With this data, we will have the opportunity to see whether these patterns hold in a broader context.

For more details, see: Singh, Shane, Ekrem Karakoç, and André Blais. 2012. Differentiating Winners: How Elections Affect Satisfaction with Democracy. Electoral Studies 31 (1):201-211.

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