Making votes count in parliament or government?By Laura Sudulich on 14 July 2017
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By Tom Verthé, Vrije Universiteit
Damien Bol, King's College London
Stefanie Beyens, Universiteit Utrecht
André Blais, Université de Montréal
The literature on strategic voting has long concentrated on SMP elections. Strategic voting in this context concerns voters who have a preference for parties that have little chances of winning in their district. Some of those voters then decide to desert their favourite party and support a more viable party, in order to maximize their chances of affecting the composition of the government, and therefore the policy outcome.
Recently, several scholars have studied strategic voting in PR countries. They have argued that strategic voting is more complex in this context given the existence of coalition governments, whose composition depends on both the distribution of parliamentary seats and (pre- and post-electoral) bargaining between the parties. In order to influence the outcome of the election, strategic voters need to consider the chances of each party entering the governing coalition.
In our recent article in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, we argue that this vision of strategic voting under PR is incomplete. Voters also have incentives to desert parties that have no chance of winning a seat in their district, because parties without parliamentary representation can hardly participate in the public debate. This suggests that voters are not concerned solely with affecting the policies that governments adopt, they are also keen to see their views and priorities represented in the legislature.
To our knowledge, there is no study that examines the effect of both government and district viability on vote choice. This is what we do in this article by studying the 2014 federal and regional elections in Belgium – a typical case of PR systems with coalition governments. Relying on data from the PartiRep and Making Electoral Democracy Work Voter Surveys, we find that both government and district viability have a substantial, distinct and positive effect on vote choice. We also find that the marginal effect of these viabilities on vote choice is higher among those who very much like their party. Our results thus bring an important contribution to the literature on strategic voting in PR countries, as we stress the importance of considering both district and government viability in order to take into account the complexity of vote choice in PR elections.