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Do voters prefer more parties on the ballot?

Abstract

Citizens’ evaluation of how well the system works is central to the legitimacy of a democratic system. Elections and voting are crucial parts of the democratic system, and therefore, it is very important to evaluate voter satisfaction with the electoral process. In this study, we evaluate one aspect of the electoral process: the supply of parties on the ballot paper, and we use a direct measure of satisfaction with the party choices available on the ballot. We performed a survey experiment with a representative sample of citizens in four Western European democracies: Austria, England, Ireland and Sweden. The results point to a clear answer: voters are more satisfied if there are more parties to choose from. The findings also show that the positive effect is stronger among the higher educated. We also examined if it is the presence of an ideologically close option that really matters. The results show that respondents in every ideological position prefer more parties. This strongly suggests that it is the number of parties, as such that matters.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

The dataset generated during the current study are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

Notes

  1. They defined egocentric congruence as the ideological match between one or more elected representatives and an individual citizen.

  2. In Sweden, this was a choice forced upon us due to the need to keep the overall length of the survey manageable.

  3. Expect for Sweden where a 1–10 scale has been used instead. In Sweden, the choice of the scale was forced upon us due to consistency with the rest of the survey questions. We recoded the satisfaction variable in Sweden to account for this difference.

  4. The original question to measure our dependent variable in Swedish and in German are as follows. German: Auf einer Skala von 0 bis 10, wobei 0 bedeutet “gar nicht zufrieden” und 10 bedeutet “sehr zufrieden”, wir zufrieden sind Sie mit dem Parteiangebot auf dem Stimmzettel, den Sie gerade benutzt haben? Swedish: På en skala 1–10 där 1 är inte alls nöjd och 10 är mycket nöjd, hur nöjd är du med det antal partier som erbjuds i valet?

  5. Lijphart (2012, 76–77) argues that in several countries with two-party systems the major parties are mainly divided with respect to one issue dimension of partisan conflict, namely the left–right dimension, while in other countries, other issue dimensions also matter. In this study, we concentrate on the classic left–right issue dimension.

  6. The voting choice variable compares closed list voting systems (e.g. South Africa and Spain), offering voters a categorical vote choice, (there the order of candidates is fixed by the party itself), versus ranking list systems (similar to the one adopted in Ireland), where voters are asked to order parties in declining order (though not forced to choose all parties).

  7. Education is coded with four categories where 0 is lowest level of education and 1 is the highest level of education. Figure 1 is based on model 4 presented in Table 2.

  8. The positions of the parties in the 3-party scenario are 2.5/5/7.5 and 1.7/3.3/5/6.7/8.5 in the 5-party scenario. The distance from the closest party is 0.8 smaller with 5 parties for those in positions 0/1/9/10, 0.2 or 0.3 for those in positions 2/3/4/6/7/8, and the distance is the same (nil) for those in position 5.

  9. We also examine whether the impact of extremism depends on the number of parties. We perform an estimation with extremism, a variable that goes from 0 to 5. 0 corresponding to the centrist location (5 on the 0 to 10 scale) and 5 corresponding to extremist positions (0 or 10 on the 0 to 10 scale) and an interaction term between extremism and number of parties. The results in Appendix G show that the interaction is statistically insignificant.

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Högström, J., Blais, A. & Plescia, C. Do voters prefer more parties on the ballot?. Acta Polit 57, 459–471 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-021-00203-w

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Keywords

  • Elections
  • Number of parties
  • Survey experiment
  • Voter satisfaction
  • Voting scenarios