Party support for new election formulae: power vs. policy

New article by Damien Bol in Party Politics examines when political parties support changes to the electoral formula in their country.  Bol implicitly compares a model where parties support a reform strictly because they think it will increase their share of seats in Parliament vs. reforms that benefit (or harm) social groups assumed to support the party’s platform.  (I think it’s a bit misleading to call this latter source of support “values” as Bol does in the titlebut later changes to “policy”.)

Regular readers of this blog may be confused by the title of the piece–“reform” refers only to changes in the proportionality formula–but the paper is an interesting treatment nonetheless.

Title: “Electoral reform, values and party self-interest”


It is often taken for granted that parties support electoral reform because they anticipate seat payoffs from the psychological and mechanical effects of the new electoral system. Although some studies point out that elements related to values and the willingness to achieve social goals are also relevant to explaining party preference in those situations, a general model of how these considerations influence support for electoral reform is still missing. To fill this gap, I develop in this article a policy-seeking model accounting for values-related factors and operationalize it using one of the most firmly established effects of electoral systems in the literature: The degree of inclusiveness and its consequences for the representation of social groups in parliament. The empirical relevance of this model is then tested using an original dataset reporting the actual position of 115 parties facing 22 electoral reform proposals in OECD countries since 1961. The results show that willingness to favour the electoral system most in line with a party’s electoral platform has a unique explanatory power over party support for a more proportional electoral system. In turn, values appear to be as crucial as party self-interest in explaining the overall electoral reform story.