Working papers

Research conducted within the project’s framework has already led to the publications of various outputs. Below, you will find the exhaustive list of the working papers that will be soon submitted.

André Blais. Electoral System Reform.

Since the Special Committee on Electoral Reform is preparing to submit its report on electoral reform, my students at the University of Montreal in POL 2050 (Political Representation) are pleased to submit their recommendation for the electoral system that should be adopted for Canadian federal elections.

After reviewing the research on the effects of voting methods, weighing the arguments for and against the different voting methods, and after deliberations and voting (see attached report), the students voted to recommend a mixed regional compensatory voting system, with preferential vote.

The proposed voting system resembles the Scottish voting system in several ways. There are regions with an average of 15 seats in total, 10 local seats and 5 regional seats allocated to the most disadvantaged parties in the local vote. Local voting would be an alternative (or preferential) vote and regional voting with open lists (see the report for more details).

This choice is based on the desire to reconcile several objectives, some of which are partly contradictory. First, there is the goal of ensuring that there is not a great distortion between the distribution of votes and seats (while not insisting on a strong correspondence). Then there is the concern to preserve strong local representation by keeping the largest possible number of constituencies represented by a local MP. Finally, there is the desire to allow voters to express their preferences in the most precise and nuanced way possible, which translates into the possibility of expressing an order of preference in the local vote and of supporting a candidate list in the regional vote.

The attached report is in French, but I am happy to answer any questions you have in both English and French. You can contact me at [email protected].


André Blais, Ludovic Rheault, John Aldrich and Thomas Gschwend. Understanding people’s choice when they have two votes.

  • Abstract: This paper introduces a model of vote choice in mixed electoral systems where electors cast two votes. We implement this model using Bayesian multinomial probit models based on pooled survey data collected at the time of the 2010 North Rhine Westphalia and the 2013 Lower Saxony state elections in Germany. Our objective is to understand the determinants of the list and candidate votes, while taking into account contamination effects across the two vote decisions. We introduce a new approach to measure contamination effects based on information about the timing of vote decisions. We show that when such effects manifest themselves, they occur from the list vote toward the candidate vote, rather than the other way around. We also find that local chances of winning and local candidate ratings affect mostly the candidate vote, while party and leader ratings influence more strongly the list vote. Contrary to our initial expectations, coalition preferences affect the candidate vote as well as the list vote.

Marc A. Bodet, Laura B. Stephenson, Francois Gélineau, Charles Tessier, and André Blais. Different settings, different effects? Electoral systems, party systems, and voter strategies.

  • Abstract: The effect of electoral systems on voters decision-making processes is a well-studied topic. Because electoral systems and party competitiveness often develop in tandem, however, it can be difficult to tease out the different dynamics that influence voters. In this paper we make use of two online quasi-experiments conducted in different party systems to investigate whether the competitive setting affects the way voters internalize electoral incentives. We consider how voters in single member plurality elections would alter their ballots if elections were conducted under a party list system of proportional representation. We then compare the change in behavior between a stable, unidimensional, two-and-a-half party system (Ontario) and an unstable, multidimensional, multiparty system (Quebec). We finally estimate the magnitude of the psychological and mechanical effects of the voting system in both contexts.

Marc A. Bodet, Allan Craigie, Laura Stephenson, and Charles Tessier. Small parties in sub-state systems: The case of Canadian provinces.

  • Abstract: Duverger’s Law suggests that single-member plurality electoral systems tend to favour two-party competition. This occurs because of two separate effects – a mechanical effect that translates votes into seats and a psychological effect that shapes the behaviour of voters. Using data from a series of web-based quasi-experiments conducted in recent Ontario (2011), Quebec (2012) and British Columbia (2013) elections, we consider how the party system influences the size of the psychological effect of electoral systems on voters. We show that multipartism and multidimensionality of the electoral market are salient factors when trying to understand the impact of Duverger’s Law.

Damien Bol, Thomas Gschwend, Thomas Zittel and Steffen Zittlau. The Electoral Sources of Good Government: A Field Experiment on German MPs.

  • Abstract: Which electoral system is best suited to make democracy work? One relevant answer to this question points towards the propensities of candidate-centered systems to effectively link citizens and the state via personal representation. Legislators elected on the basis of personalized ballots are said to be more likely to engage in constituency communication and to thus secure responsive and accountable government. This paper empirically tests this argument on the basis of Germany’s mixed electoral system and in light of a field experiment conducted with members of the 17th German Bundestag. Germany’s mixed system provides variance in electoral rules and allows to test for the behavioral implications of candidate centered electoral rules vis-à-vis party centered rules. Furthermore, our experimental research design allows to explore in greater depth the assumed causal link between the institutional and behavioral levels of analysis. The paper contributes to the literature on personal vote seeking in light of a new and innovative research design, a refined explanatory model, and a most relevant research question.

Fred Cutler, Paul J. Quirk, and Benjamin Nyblade. Party voices and citizen efficacy: An experimental study.

  • Abstract: Electoral rules and party systems are the foundation of representation. However, the literature lacks direct evidence on the psychological mechanisms that link electoral and party systems to citizens’ assessments of efficacy, representation, and the quality of democracy. This article presents an analysis of a novel experimental analysis of citizen efficacy. We simulate the effect of existing party systems and manipulate them in ways credible to our subject-citizens. Our experiment highlights the importance of voice-citizens hearing views they favour articulated in a campaign-in determining feelings of representation. However, our subjects’ responses to the treatments were conditional on their relationships to the political system beyond the laboratory, a finding that has important implications for future experimental work in the area.

Fred Cutler, Andrea Nuesser and Ben Nyblade. Evaluating the quality of democracy with individual level models of satisfaction: Or, a complete model of satisfaction with democracy

  • Abstract: In this paper we critique existing research on citizens’ satisfaction with democracy (SWD) and propose solutions to three problems. First, we argue that SWD should be used in mature democracies more boldly as an indicator of subjective judgments of the quality of democracy. Second, because SWD is an individual-level measure, it requires a great deal more individual-level theory, even if the goal is to learn about the effect of institutions on the quality of democracy. We provide a sketch of that theory. And third, we argue as well that existing research does not provide an appropriate multi-level causal theory and, as a result, uses empirical specifications that do not accurately estimate the causal effect of institutions on SWD. We show examples of the bias and propose solutions. The paper concludes with a call for cumulation of knowledge about SWD through a consensus on its individual-level determinants and a multilevel causal structure for the effect of institutions on it.

Thomas Gschwend, Steffen Zittlau, and Lukas Stötzer. What determines rental votes? Party signals vs individual preferences.

  • Abstract: Rental votes are a specific form of strategic voting, in which supporters of a senior coalition partner cast their vote for the prospective junior partner in order to make the coalition more viable, e.g. by pushing the junior partner’s vote share over the electoral threshold. While strategic voting theories suppose that such behavior is due to the voters’ rational calculus, political commentators tend to stress other factors that are located at the party-level. In short, these rival explanations suggest that voters cast rental votes when parties signal them to do so. In this article, we test these competing explanations using data from the Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project. We compare individual vote choices in the German State of Lower Saxony for the incumbent coalition partners CDU and FDP in the 2013 State election and in the Federal election, which took place six months later. While rental-votes helped the FDP to enter parliament on the state level, on the federal level the FDP fell short of the electoral threshold. If the strategic voter story is correct, we should nevertheless find the same rational rental-vote calculus on state and federal level. We find that this is not the case: strategic voting worked very differently in both elections. Based on this we suspect that contrary to individual-specific voting theories, much of the rental-voting was influenced by the campaign signals of the senior partner. While on state level the CDU tacitly approved of rental-votes, on the federal level they sent out signals to their voters not to cast rental vote.

Carolina Galais, André Blais, and Shaun Bowler. Is political interest absolute or relative?

  • Abstract: An individual’s level of interest in politics has both normative and empirical relevance. Normatively, interest in politics is a component of the definition of a democratic citizen; empirically, interest in politics is a broadly used predictor of political participation. Despite this importance there has been little systematic reflection about how it should be measured, and especially about how to minimize social desirability biases that may prevent some people from admitting a lack of interest. In this paper we present different ways of measuring political interest and validate these measures by using them to predict standard measures of political participation. In this paper we determine whether asking respondents how interested they are in politics compared to other domains produces different results.

Eric Guntermann and Liron Lavi. Assessing ideological content in party preferences: Political dimensionality in five democracies.

  • Abstract: Scholars have long argued that most citizens do not think in ideological terms. This conclusion is problematic given the other finding that citizens are poorly informed about politics. If citizens are poorly informed, it does not make sense to assess ideological thinking using answers to questions people know little about. We test the ‘innocence of ideology’ thesis in a novel way using survey data collected in multiple elections in five democracies as part of the Making Electoral Democracy Work project. Applying multidimensional scaling with bootstrapping, we produce two-dimensional representations of citizens’ party and leader preferences, how much they like or dislike each party. We find that citizens’ party and leader evaluations reflect an underlying ideological dimension in varied contexts in different countries. While citizens clearly like parties at one location on the left-right scale more than those at other locations, voters of different parties do not place themselves on the left-right scale in a clearly different way. Moreover, citizens in most countries are incapable of clearly placing parties on the left-right dimension.

Philipp Harfst, André Blais, and Damien Bol. Voting strategically in two-vote elections.

  • Abstract: In this paper, we study the decision to vote strategically in a two-vote mixed-member electoral system. We propose a definition of strategic voting, we lay out the conditions that must be met in order to conclude that a vote is strategic, and we use data from four surveys conducted in Germany that were explicitly designed to measure strategic voting in a two-vote context. We then ascertain the amount of strategic votes that take place for each of the two votes, we distinguish, when appropriate, various types of strategic voting, and we estimate the electoral consequences of strategic voting. For this last operation, we simulate the distribution of the votes in the absence of any strategic vote. We finally compare the level of strategic voting in different elections, and discuss the contextual factors that might potentially foster strategic voting.

Indridi Indridason, Matt Golder, and Thomas Gschwend. Negative campaigning in multicandidate contests.

  • Abstract: What explains the type of electoral campaign run by political candidates? We conceptualize electoral campaigns along two dimensions: (i) positive-negative, and (ii) policy-valence. A campaign is positive if it focuses on one’s own candidacy and negative if it focuses on that of one’s opponents. A campaign is a policy campaign if it focuses on policy issues and a valence campaign if it focuses on candidate quality. Our conceptualization leads to a four-fold classification in which electoral campaigns can be either positive-policy, positive-valence, negative-policy, or negative-valence. In this paper, we present a game-theoretic model in which candidates who differ in terms of their initial policy positions, valance, and endowments strategically choose the type of electoral campaign to run. We plan to test our hypotheses using data from the Wisconsin Advertising Project. Although we have yet to conduct our empirical analyses, we hope that the results will strongly support our theoretical model.

Romain Lachat. Is what you want what you see? Partisan and ideological bias in perceptions of parties’ electoral chances.

  • Abstract: This paper analyzes how accurately citizens perceive parties’ electoral chances. It is often assumed, for example in studies of strategic voting, that citizens’ perceptions of parties’ electoral chances are correct on average. Previous research has however shown that citizens are affected by wishful thinking. They tend to overestimate the chances of their preferred party. Previous research on this topic has mainly focused on majoritarian electoral systems. This paper extends this line of research by considering the accuracy of citizens’ perceptions in a proportional electoral system. It also considers two different sources of bias: partisan and ideological preferences. The analysis is based on a pre-electoral internet survey conducted at the occasion of the regional parliamentary election in the canton of Zurich, Switzerland, in April 2011. The results show that both sources of bias influence the quality of citizens’ perceptions. Political sophistication increases the accuracy of perceptions, but it does not reduce the strength of partisan and ideological biases.

Romain Lachat, Jean‐François Laslier, and Karine Van Der Straeten. Committee approval: A rational theory and an application to the 2011 regional government election in Zurich.

  • Abstract: In several cantons in Switzerland the regional government, i.e. a set of governors who share the executive power in the canton, is elected according to an original voting rule, in which voters can vote for several candidates. Up to some details, these elections are instances of what is known in Social Choice Theory as “Committee Approval Voting”. The contribution of this paper is twofold. First, since there exists so far no complete and testable theory of individual rational voting under Committee Approval, we propose such a theory. Second, we use data from a panel survey collected during the 2011 Zurich Cantonal election to check whether this theory is consistent with individual behavior during that election. Roughly 70% of the individual decisions on candidates are consistent with our model of rational voting.

Ignacio, Lago, Marc Guinjoan, Sandra Bermúdez, Kelly Rowe, and Pablo Simón. Party mobilization and electoral systems.

Michael McGregor and Laura Stephenson. Timing is everything? The correlates and effects of time-of-voting-decisions.

  • Abstract: Deciding which party or candidate to support in an election is not always a simple task. Some voters have a standing vote decision that simplifies the process; others wait until the last moment, perhaps influenced by campaign effects or strategic considerations, to make their choice. Using data from the Making Electoral Democracy Work project, this paper investigates how structural factors influence when vote decisions are made. In this exploratory study, we aim to determine whether differences in the time-of-voting-decision across electoral systems are related to the institutional incentives provided by these systems. In particular, we focus upon attitudinal factors that we think are most likely to be influenced by electoral systems: ambivalence toward parties, indifference toward election outcomes, and feelings of efficacy.

Mike Medeiros and Alain Noel. Minority on the left, majority on the right: Social group status and partisanship in Bavaria

  • Abstract Historically, in English-speaking countries, Catholics, a large minority group, have tended to favour parties of the left or of the centre-left, whereas voters associated to the Protestant majority more readily supported conservative parties. These partisan orientations were not easily explained by the policy preferences of the two groups, or by a distinctly Catholic or Protestant “ethos.” They appeared related, however, to the status of each group, the majority voting more easily for the status quo, and the minority more naturally for change and redistribution. These alignments could also reflect negative partisan identity, each group being prompted to vote against the other side. The proposed paper revisits this question with new data on an intriguing case, Bavaria, a German Land with a Catholic majority and a sizeable Protestant minority. Our findings provide new insights on the partisanship of minority and majority groups.

Alexandre Morrin-Chassé, Damien Bol, Laura Stephenson, and Simon Labbé St-Vincent. How to survey about turnout? A replication study of the face-saving question in five democracies.

  • Abstract: Researchers studying electoral participation often rely on post-election surveys. There is a problem with this: The reported turnout rate is usually much higher in survey samples than in reality (even in probability samples). Many studies show that this overestimation is partly caused by a social desirability bias associated with voting. This has led some American researchers to consider using a face-saving question format to measure electoral participation. In this paper, we validate the utility of such a question format outside the United States through a series of wording experiments embedded in 12 post-election surveys in Europe and Canada, at various levels of government. Similar to other studies conducted in Austria and Israel, our results show that there is a difference of about six percentage points in the reported turnout between the two question formats in many political contexts.

Laura Stephenson and Éric Bélanger. Campaigns and cross-level partisanship.

  • Abstract: How is the consistency of cross-level partisanship affected by political campaigns? One expectation, derived from the literature, is that consistency is a sign of voters taking a shortcut when choosing their political affiliation, and not considering campaign information. We theorize that the exact opposite may be true in political contexts where party systems are congruent: campaign attention should increase awareness of the political environment and lead individuals to hold consistent partisanship for ideological reasons. Our findings clearly indicate that assuming consistent cross-level partisans are less sophisticated and less attentive is inappropriate. We also find that general political attention and campaign attention are not equal when it comes to influencing cross-level partisanship.

Laura Stephenson, Marian Bohl, André Blais, and Hanspeter Kriesi. Choice and complexity: To cast or not to cast a customized ballot?

  • Abstract: The open ballot PR electoral system used in Switzerland gives a considerable amount of choice to voters. In principle this wealth of choice is very democratic in that it allows citizens to express their preferences with all kinds of nuance. Yet the information demands of such complex ballots, and how they might limit the use of the measures by certain citizens, are rarely considered. In this paper we examine who takes advantage of the opportunity to cast a customized ballot in the Swiss open ballot PR system, and we determine whether it leads to more positive evaluations of one’s vote decisions. We use survey data gathered by the Making Electoral Democracy Work project in Zurich and Lucerne during the April 2011 cantonal elections and the October 2011 national election to address these questions.