This a summary of the artcile recentely published on JEPOP. The full article is here
It is commonly acknowledged that the design of electoral systems involves trade-offs. A prominent example is the trade-off between proportionality and stable majorities. An electoral system that guarantees proportionality is less likely to produce clear majorities within a parliament and vice versa.Yet, the proportionality-majority-trade-off is only one among many. In our paper, we focus on a central, but less frequently discussed choice in the design of electoral systems, namely the one between strongly personalised but at the same time rather complex and demanding electoral systems. More concretely, we analyse which voters prefer having more choice between parties and candidates in an election and which voters prefer a more comprehensible electoral system.
We argue that the approval of a personalised electoral system is structured in similar ways as support for direct democracy. Empirically, we rely on the cases of electoral system change in the German states Hamburg and Bremen to test our theoretical assumption. In both states, a closed-list PR system was replaced by a complex open-list PR system with cumulative voting. Using representative surveys conducted prior to all four state elections under cumulative voting in 2011 and 2015, we analyse which individual factors determine the approval, disapproval or indifference towards the new electoral law.
First we find that only a minority of voters in both states approved the new, more personalised, electoral system. In line with our expectations, respondents who identify with the Green or Left Party are more likely to approve the system. Additionally, we observe a strong relationship between the age of a respondent and the attitude towards the open-list PR system. Respondents younger than 30 years have a predicted probability of 20 per cent to dislike the electoral system. For respondents in this age group, the predicted probability of approving the reform is three times as high as the disapproval. For older voters the effect shows in the opposite direction. We also find that people with high political interest and knowledge are less likely to feel indifferent towards the electoral law but not necessarily more supportive. Finally, support for the electoral system reform is higher among citizens in Bremen where the electoral rules are less complex than in Hamburg, as the latter state uses two different lists, one for 3–5 seat constituencies and one for a state list. The existence of two lists results in ballot booklets amounting to over 30 pages and much higher levels of complexity. The ‘information overkill’ of choice in Hamburg might reduce the legitimacy of the system compared to Bremen where the ballot is restricted to a single list.
Overall, our paper shows that public opinion offers important evidence about the legitimacy of electoral systems which provides crucial information for future attempts of electoral reform and the personalisation of political. Adding items on the evaluation of the current electoral system and possible alternatives to national and subnational election studies would give researchers and policy-makers crucial insights into voters’ views on electoral systems, one of the fundamental institutional features of democracies.