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Issue voting under different institutional contexts

Political communication and effective representation in 37 countries

Stefan Dahlberg
Henrik Oscarsson
Daniel Berlin

Paper prepared for presentation at the XIV NOPSA Conference


August 11-13, 2005 Reykjavik, Iceland

Stefan Dahlberg, Ph. D-student. Gteborg University. stefan.dahlberg@pol.gu.se +46


(0)31 773 46 86
Henrik Oscarsson, Associate Professor. Gteborg University. henrik.oscarsson@pol.gu.se
+46 (0)31 773 46 66
Daniel Berlin, Ph. D-student. Gteborg University. Daniel.berlin@pol.gu.se +46 (0)31 773
46 00
Abstract

The impact of electoral systems on party systems has long been regarded as one of the most
important effects of electoral engineering (Duverger 1954; Lijphart 1994; Sartori 1997; 1976a). A
common assumption among rational choice institutionalists is that electoral rules have a certain
impact on the party systems and the patterns of competition, since the adoption of certain rules
creates incentives for rational vote-seeking parties to either emphasize particularistic or
programmatic benefits during the election campaigns (Downs 1957b; Sjblom 1968). The
strategies adopted by political elites are indirectly expected to influence the voting behavior
among citizens. Yet, it is not quite clear to what extent electoral institutions affect voters on a
micro level, only that they do. By combining contextual variables on electoral system features
with cross-national surveys of voting behavior, we empirically explore how citizens are affected
by the institutional context. A simultaneous modeling of macro and micro data from CSES
shows a weak but significant contextual effect of type of electoral system on voting behavior.
Proportional multiparty-systems seem to induce parties to communicate their policy positions by
means of ideology. The parties left-right positions are more known to voters in proportional
systems than in non-proportional systems and the effect of ideology on party choice is also
stronger in proportional systems. The fact that the left-right dimension is not a valid operationalization of ideology in some countries does raise doubts over the validity of the findings. If
only polities where the left-right dimension plays an important role are included, the support for
this main finding becomes stronger. A more elaborated conclusion would be that among
countries where the left-right dimension is an important distinction for voters, we find a
significant effect of institutional context on the levels of ideological voting.
Introduction
There is a newly awakened interest among political scientists for empirically founded research on
constitutional design and electoral outcome. The vast amount of research in this field have long
focused on how politicians and parties are affected by different institutional factors, which in turn
is believed to have a certain impact upon voters as well. According to Giovanni Sartori, electoral
systems are the most specific and manipulative instrument of politics (Sartori 1997) and few
would today oppose that institutions matter, both explicitly and implicitly (Reynolds 2002; Norris
2003b). Yet, it is not quite clear how electoral institutions affect voters on a micro level, only that
they do. By combining contextual variables on electoral system features with cross-national
surveys of voting behavior, we have the opportunity to empirically examine how citizens are
affected by the institutional context. Our theoretical approach originates from rational choice

institutionalism where we are theorizing on how formal and informal rules1 may affect the
behavior of actors within a political system, which in turn is believed to influence the voting
behavior among individuals.2 Just as James Madison asserted two centuries ago, we believe that
one of the keys to a well-functioning representative democracy lies in the architectural creation of
political institutions (Ferejohn 1990: 6). More precisely, we are interested in how the institutional
contexts affect voters perceptions of parties and how this may promote a higher degree of
ideological issue voting, which we believe is normatively appealing to popular theories of
effective representation. Our interest in political perceptions and ideological voting stems from
the fact that these factors affect the extent to which voters are meaningfully represented in a
political system, as they are important determinants of outcomes of electoral processes (Granberg
1988: 2; Brug 1997: 2).
Voting behavior
Several models of political representation have been developed over the years, where one of the
most prominent is the responsible party model (RPM). The RPM has been the normative
foundation in several studies concerning the functions of representative democratic systems,
where it has been used for theorising about necessary conditions for citizens to select parties or
candidates that represent their preferences, i.e. policy positions. The model presumes a
prospective mandate where parties, during the election campaign, present coherent policy
programs on which voters make their choices. An important prerequisite assessed by the model is
that the parties should present divergent and stable policy positions so that voters are given
meaningful electoral choices. Regarding voting-behavior, the RPM assumes that voters base their
decisions on a comparative evaluation of the policy programmes among the competing parties.
Thereafter, in order to directly influence government policies, they vote for the party or candidate
whose policy-program are in best congruence with the voters own preferences (H. S. J.
Thomassen 1999: 116; Adams 2001: ch. 1; Esaiasson &

Holmberg 1996; Klingemann,

Hofferbert & Budge 1994; Pennings 1998b). The importance of issue agreement between voters
and their representatives in the RPM implies that the model easily can be incorporated in

Formal rules are here understood as the legislative framework embedded in official documents or constitutional
conventions such as the degree of proportionality, effective thresholds etc. Among the informal rules or noninstitutional contextual factors that may influence the individual act of voting, we refer to variables such as the
breadth of alternatives, the dimensionality of the ideological space and the polarization of the party system.
2
Our definition of an institution relies on B. G. Peters where: institutions are conceptualized as collections of
rules and incentives that establish the conditions for bounded rationality, and therefore establish a political
space within which many interdependent political actors can function Peters 1999: 44.

traditional spatial models of electoral competition, where smallest spatial distance is decisive for
how voters choose to cast their ballots.
An important determinant of the quality of the outcomes of electoral processes is the amount of
political knowledge among voters, as it is more likely that well informed, rather that ill-informed
voters make electoral decisions that reflect their attitudes toward public policies. If the process of
democratic representation is to be acceptable from a normative point of view, a necessary
condition that has to be fulfilled is that voters are informed about the different policy
alternatives. Voters knowledge on matters of political or societal character has been the subject
in several studies over the years and most of these studies have come to a similar conclusion: the
amount of information among average voters is poor. The possibilities for reasoned choices, as
acquired by most of the normative theories on representative democracy, may therefore be
considered as being beyond the capability of the vast majority of the democratic citizenry (Delli
Carpini & Keeter 1996; Campbell et al. 1960; Larry M. Bartels 1996; Page & Shapiro 1992;
Converse 1964; Petersson et al. 1998; Holmberg & Oscarsson 2004; Gordon 1997; Lupia 1998).
An argument why political representation in mass democracies can work at all in spite of the fact
that citizens in general are not very knowledgeable about political matters is that citizen and elites
often share the same belief systems (L. M. Bartels 1996; Luskin 2003). Rational voters use heuristics
such as ideologies, cognitive schemas or belief systems as cost-reducing devices or shortcuts (see fc
Downs 1957b; Zaller 1992; Lupia 1998; Popkin 1991).
The role of belief systems in models of political representation has recently been highlighted by
Jacques Thomassen (Holmberg 1999; Schmitt & Thomassen 1999; J. Thomassen 1999; van der
Brug &

van der Eijk 1999; van der Eijk, Franklin & van der Brug 1999). According to

Thomassen, unidimensional belief systems is a desired characteristics of representative democracies as the effectiveness of the responsible party model depends on the extent to which the
policy views of both the masses and elites are constrained by a one-dimensional conflict
dimension, more specifically, a left-right dimension (H. S. J. Thomassen 1999: 34). His simple
but strong argument is well founded. It rests upon social choice theory as well as the classic
Downsian spatial theory of elections, where actors perceptual agreement of the political
landscape is an important prerequisite (Downs 1957b). In short, Thomassens statement is that
simplicity in the political world is important for effective political representation.3 According to
3

The hypothesis that simple, unidimensional party systems makes it easier to produce effective representation, leads to higher
policy congruence between masses and elites and, eventually, also produce higher levels of political legitimacy is worth pursuing

this perspective, ideology provides the fundamental means of communication and constitutes a
crucial linkage between citizens and elected representatives. In this perspective, it is the existence
of a common political language, spoken and understood by both elites and masses that make modern mass democracies not break down. Since the ideological position of an actor can be used to
trace the standpoints on a large number of underlying issues (Downs 1957b; Brug 1997), it could
be argued that vote-decisions based on ideology, from a normative point of view, is desirable as it
is both informative and demands some sort of issue orientation among the voters as required by
the RPM.
A range of studies, this included, focus on citizens abilities to perceive political messages from
elites, i.e. how well policy alternatives and issue positions are being communicated to citizens. An
electorate with clear and common perceptions of the party space has repeatedly been identified as
one important prerequisite for successful political representation (Converse 1975; van der Brug
1996; Schmitt & Thomassen 1999). To maintain meaningful mass-elite communication, citizens
need to have clear and correct perceptions of the main alternatives, or at least the most important
differences between them, and what the ideological conflicts in the party system are all about
(Berelson 1952). Perceptual agreement is considered to be a necessary, although not sufficient,
condition for the electoral process to function as an effective channel of communication (van der
Brug & van der Eijk 1999; van der Eijk, Franklin & van der Brug 1999). The more agreement over
parties positions in the ideological space, the stronger the impact of ideology on voters party
preferences (Oppenhuis 1995; Tillie 1995; van der Eijk & Franklin 1996). Strong agreement over
party positions among voters is being interpreted as an indicator of successful communication of
policy standpoints on behalf of the parties.
The left-right position as a cognitive cue
In this article, we will make use of the Left-Right dimension, since it has been considered as
being one of the most universal and salient issue-dimensions within several political systems. It is
also one of the few comparable measurements for belief systems available (Jones 2004; Budge
1987; Klingemann, Hofferbert & Budge 1994; H. S. J. Thomassen 1999). The strength with the
left-right dimension is, as mentioned, that it summarizes positions on a large number of
underlying issues and in the end, left-right ideology does not only structure voters preferences
but may also be used as an information short cut on parties standpoints on several concrete
a bit further. A European-wide analysis revealed a weak positive aggregate correlation between voters perceptual agreement
over parties left-right positions and levels of political legitimacy (satisfied with democracy) (Oscarsson 2001).

issues (Downs 1957a: 98; Brug 1997: 38; 1999a; Fuchs 1990; Holmberg 2004; 1981: 192ff). This
assumes that voters implicitly use a spatial image in their perceptions of political actors, issues or
ideologies,(Budge 1987; Oscarsson 1998; Brug 1997: 10) which favour the use of spatial models
in the study of political communication.4
The left-right distinction is probably most accurately described as a historically successful
instrument of communication. Left and Right have proven to be powerful spatial metaphors
that greatly help communicate political preferences and ideological standpoints between elites
and masses in modern democracies one of the keystones in many popular models of political
representation, such as the Responsible Party Model. Thus, the merit of the distinction is the
simple distinction itself, not its content. More boldly put, the uni-dimensional mental map of the
political landscape may have played a key role in the rise of well functioning representative
democracies. Since its birth in the late 18th century, the bipolar left-right construction has shown
remarkable resistance, reproducing itself in new polities and in new historical and social contexts,
constantly challenged and reshaped by new ideological dimensions.5 Although the substantive
meaning and interpretation of the left-right distinction have not remained the same for two
hundred years albeit for the key element of equality (Bobbio 1996) the distinction has thus,
played a crucial role as an information cost reducing device for political actors. Leaders have
made extensive use of the left-right grammar for sending political messages that otherwise
probably would have been incomprehensible for most voters. Left-Right have important orientational functions for individual citizens, and communication functions for political systems (Fuchs
& Klingemann 1989; Inglehart & Klingemann 1976).

Why do we expect electoral systems to have an impact on voting behavior?


The impact of electoral systems on party systems has long been regarded as one of the most
important effects of electoral engineering. Generally speaking, proportional systems tend to
produce a greater number of parties than majoritarian systems (Duverger 1954; Sartori 1976a;

We know from a number of national studies that perceptual consensus over parties positions is dependent on the saliency of
issue dimensions (Brug 1997; Oscarsson 1998. This means that the more intensively parties communicate their left-right
positions to voters, the more common will voters perceptions of the parties left-right positions become. Therefore, aggregated measures of perceptual accuracy can be regarded as an indicator of how well the process of political representation works
for left-right related issues in a political system. Working with this particular data, we have no other ideological dimensions
for which parties and voters placements have been measured.

The absorptive power of the Left-Right semantics is impressive. For instance, religious, liberal economic and
materialist values all contribute to rightist identification among citizens, while secular, economic leftist and postmaterialist values contribute to leftist identification (Knutsen 1995; Knutsen 1999.).

1997; Lijphart 1994; Golder 2005).6 Rational choice institutionalism emphasizes that formal rules
generate incentives that are shaping and constraining the rational goal-seeking behavior of the
actors within a political system (Laver 1997; Peters 1999). A common assumption is then that
electoral rules exerts an influence on the party systems and the patterns of competition, since the
adoption of certain rules creates incentives for rational vote-seeking politicians to either
emphasize particularistic or programmatic benefits during the election campaigns (Downs 1957b;
Sjblom 1968). The strategies adopted by political elites are then, indirectly expected to influence
the voting behavior of citizens.7
Consequently, proportional party-list formulas tend to produce incentives to shift the attention
from individual politicians with particularistic policies to political parties with programmatic
policies (Norris 2003b; Sjblom 1968). In such a system, voters tend to vote for parties instead of
single candidates. The candidates are also dependent on the parties for their election as the party
leadership nominates them through the party-lists. A candidates personal characteristics may
then be considered as less important as they are acting more on behalf of the party.
Party-ballots can thus, be expected to be effective in promoting party discipline, coherence and
programmatic campaigning. Effective well-functioning parties may serve several important tasks
in a political system by simplifying electoral choices, organize campaigns, aggregate interests,
channelling the debate and select candidates (Dalton 2000) which in turn may affect voters
perceptions of party positions and their voting behavior. The adoption of a proportional partylist formula may increase the number of parties in a political system and increase the incentives
for the development of programmatic ideologically driven political parties and the presence of a
shared belief system and a commonly spoken political language is an essential ingredient for a
well functioning representative political system.

This division should thus not be thought of as a dichotomy since most electoral systems are a combination of functions from
them both. An electoral system is therefore more or less proportional or majoritarian
7
The expectation that single member plurality systems will produce a two-party system has not gained fully empirical
support. Those who want to predict the number of parties in a given political context must also consider the patterns of the
social cleavages and not only the type of electoral system (Volwes 2004.) For example, Sartori argues that a proportional
system do not multiply the number of parties in it self; instead, this is an indirect effect of the proportional formula. PR may
in some cases remove pre-existing obstacles and thereby open up for new parties. For the same reasons, a plurality system
cannot by itself produce a two party system but will help to maintain an existing one (Grofman & Lijphart 1986: 2-5.). The
number of parties in a political system is also dependent on the level of the effective threshold that is applied in many
proportional systems, in an attempt to decrease the party fragmentation and to promote stable governments (Lijphart 1998.)
Nevertheless, it is clear that electoral formulas have a fundamental impact on the characteristics of the party systems (Sartori
1997; Lijphart 1994; Duverger 1954. In general, countries that are using any form of proportional representation have twice
as many parliamentary parties than countries using any form of majoritarian electoral system (Norris 2003b: 84.

As stated earlier, electoral rules influence the patterns of competition and in line with spatial
models of party competition, parties in a multiparty system will try to position themselves more
ideologically and differentiate themselves as much as possible from the competing parties around
in an attempt to mobilize their electoral support. While a two party system will make the parties
to converge ideologically at the median voter position, parties in a multiparty system will maintain
the clarity in their positions since they are not necessarily striving to attract the median voters
(Downs 1957a: 115-27; Sjblom 1968). When more parties are encouraged in the competition,
they will face centrifugal incentives to take more dispersed positions in the policy space (Cox
1990; Sartori 1976b). Reasonably, more parties mean greater polarization, which should facilitate
for voters to perceive the differences between them, which should increase the degree of
ideological issue voting.8 Reasonably, there is an upper limit where the effective number of parties
within a system will exceed the benefits with breadth of alternatives. If too many parties are
involved in the competition, voters may find it difficult to discern the policy positions between
the parties, but this is an empirical question.
When certain types of electoral formulas tend to affect the number of parties, which in turn is
expected to be decisive for the degree of competition, i.e. centripetal or centrifugal competition,
other historical factors account for the dimensionality in a political system.9 The number of social
cleavages in a political system is not necessarily affecting the number of parties in a political
system (Jones 2004) and the parties are not by themselves capable of creating societal cleavages
but they may induce or suppress already existing ones (Lipset & Rokkan 1967; Bartolini 1990; O.
S. Knutsen, E. 1995). Nevertheless, the number of cleavages in a society may still be decisive for
the effectiveness of the communication between parties and voters. Mainly because some parties
may be more attached to alternative cleavages, such as environmentalist, religious- or linguistic
parties, why the clarity in their positions will be depending on the saliency of the different
cleavages.
However, the initial adoption of certain rules such as a proportional formula may increase the
incentives for bonding strategies among the competing parties, since proportional systems tend
to produce multiparty systems that in turn may maintain or even reinforce existing cleavages. In
8

In contrast to the proximity theory, the advocators of the directional theory claims that voters in general are unable to
recognise slighter adjustments in policy positions among parties. Instead, voters evaluate parties policies on their direction
and intensity rather than in terms of their closeness to a voters own policy position. Given these assumptions, the perceptual
agreement on a partys position may be expected to be higher for parties with extremer positions, as it will be more likely that
the voters know the position of a party with such a position. See (Rabinowitz 1991: 157-66; Adams 2001: 97; MacDonald
1991; Rabinowitz 1989; Merill III 1999; Westholm 1997; Gilljam 1997.)
9
Our definition of a social cleavage rests on the work of Bartolini and Mair, where a cleavage exists if there is an interest
conflict characterized by a) a social differentiation b) that is institutionalized and c) politically organized (Bartolini 1990.

plurality systems, on the other hand, parties may adopt bridging strategies that may suppress the
group consciousness in the electoral arena and even downplay the importance of pre-existing
cleavages (Norris 2003b). Something that can be expected to have far-reaching consequences,
both for how voters perceive the parties but also on their voting behavior. If proportional
systems imply that parties will adopt bridging strategies, then the voters within these systems
should obtain higher levels of perceptual agreement and to a higher extent lean upon ideological
issue voting than in plurality- or majoritarian systems.
So far, we have mainly focused on effects of electoral systems in terms of the simple dichotomy
between majoritarian and proportional systems. However, a constitutional order that bring large
votes/seats disparities where the seat allocation is not congruent with the parties actual vote
share may also reduce the incentives for individuals to be fully involved. A high degree of
disproportionality may induce tactical voting where citizens are voting for their second choice
instead of their first hand preferences. This may in turn decrease the incentives for gathering
accurate information of the different policy alternatives (Gordon 1997). Reasonably, the more
proportional a system is, the more likely it is that voters will vote on their first hand choice,
which also should imply higher levels of ideological proximity.10
This leads us toward our main hypothesis, which in a broader sense claims that it is all about
simplicity. Perceptual agreement and the degree of ideological voting will be higher among voters
in: a proportional, uni-dimensional political system, characterized by the occurrence of both
party-list ballots and an electoral threshold and a polarized party system where several, but not
too many, parties are involved in the competition, since:
1). Proportional systems tend to produce multiparty systems, and parties within such a system
will adopt bridging strategies and try to differentiate and positioning them selves more
ideologically in an attempt to maintain the clarity in their positions; and
2). with several parties involved in the competition, the parties will face centrifugal incentives to
take more dispersed positions in an attempt to profile themselves from other competing parties
and a high degree of polarization will, in turn, facilitate for the voters to apprehend the positions
of the parties.
10

There is always some distortion embedded in the electoral systems due to various factors, why there are no completely
proportional system. The lowest electoral threshold is to be found in the Netherlands where it is .67 percentages (Farrell
2001.)

In sum, the more proportional an electoral system is the more likely it is that the political
representatives will communicate their policies in terms of ideology, which will increase the
perceptual agreement and the degree of ideological voting among the voters.
The purpose with these not too daring hypotheses is not as much an attempt to win new terrain,
but rather to systematically examine traditional assumptions about the effect of electoral systems
on voting behavior and effective representation. With access to a new cross-national dataset
containing data on both voters and institutions, we now finally have the opportunity to test this
empirically.
Data, design and operationalizations
This study uses data from the CSES (Comparative Study of Electoral Systems) which is a
collaborative project of cross-national research among election studies conducted in over fifty
states. The strengths with the dataset, besides that it is cross-national, is that it contains both
micro-level data that include vote choice, candidate and party evaluations etc. and macro-level
data on aggregate electoral returns, electoral rules and formulas. This allows us to conduct both
cross-level, as well as cross-national analyses on the effects of electoral institutions on voting
behavior.11
Our analysis is based on data from CSES module 1 and 2, where respondents in some 37
countries were asked to place themselves and the parties on an eleven-point left-right scale 0-10.
The CSES-question was: In politics people sometimes talk of left and right. Where would you
place yourself on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means the left and 10 means the right.12 A
universal application of such a left-right scale is not uncontroversial. We know from earlier
studies that the left-right distinction obviously makes a lot more sense in some countries than in
others (Huber & Inglehart 1995; Klingemann 1995). We also know that the substantive meaning
of the terms left and right differ much between polities and even between decades in the same
polity. So, how can we justify the use of left-right division as a world-wide operationalization of
ideology?

11

The data can be downloaded from: www.umich.edu/~cses


In Japan, a liberal-conservative scale was used. In the Netherlands, a ten-point scale 1-10 was used instead of
an eleven-point scale.
12

10

A simple indicator of the importance of the left-right dimension in a polity is the strength of the
bivariate relationship between party choice and voters self-reported ideological left-right
positions (see table 1). In the CSES data, the highest correlations are found in Sweden (eta=.77),
Czechoslovakia (eta=.76) and Poland (eta=.72). In these countries, we can explain large portions
of the dependent variable party choice just by asking respondents about their own left-right
position. Party choice is highly correlated with left-right ideology also in Spain, Iceland, Israel,
Denmark, Portugal and Switzerland. In sum, 18 of 37 countries in the study have correlations
higher than eta=.50. In conclusion, it is fairly unproblematic to use left-right ideology as a single
indicator of ideology in these countries.13
In general, the relationship between left-right ideology and party choice are high. The importance
of left-right ideology is substantively higher on the European continent than outside Europe.
Note that there are no non-European countries with high correlations, with the exception of
New Zeeland (eta=.64), which undoubtedly also belong to the Western European culturalhistorical sphere. In polities as Romania, Korea, Belgian Wallonia, Taiwan and Peru, there are
only weak bivariate correlations between citizens left-right orientations and party choice. Again,
the left-right dimensions inability to perform well outside a Western-European cultural-political
context is an important result in itself and will have consequences for the remaining analyses in
this article.
The rich variation of electoral systems in the world also makes it complicated for political comparativists. Many categorizations of electoral systems have been applied in contemporary research,
and there is an on-going debate over what distinctions are most fruitful for empirical analysis
(Powell 2000; Shugart & Wattenberg 2001; Anckar 2002). In previous analyses of CSES data, the
operational classification of electoral systems has been into three large categories: proportional
list systems, semi-proportional combined systems, and majoritarian systems (see Holmberg 2002;
Norris 2003a).
We have earlier argued that effective representation largely rests upon successful communication
and that a prerequisite for ideological issue voting is that the parties actually are appealing to the
voters in terms of ideology and that they have managed to communicate their ideological

13

Of course, if you dig deeper into the ideological space of national polities, you will find many reasons to
expand the analysis with one, two or more important ideological dimensions, or even single issue dimensions.
Even in Sweden, probably the most uni-dimensional party space in Europe (Oscarsson 2001.), more in-depth
analysis must expand the number of dimensions to two (Oscarsson 1998.)

11

positions to the voters so that they have clear and consistent perceptions of the party positions. If
ideology, i.e. left-right position, is going to work as a more or less accurate information shortcut
for the different policy alternatives that a voter is facing during an election, the parties have to be
able to communicate their left-right positions to the voters. Perceptual agreement among voters
is not necessarily the same as perceptual accuracy. Nevertheless, if a majority of the voters are
agreeing on the wrong position of a party, the communication has obviously failed. It is thus,
quite unlikely that this actually will happen, and therefore we consider perceptual agreement to be
a valid indicator on the degree of success in political communication (Brug 1997: 44).
For measuring the degree of perceptual agreement among voters, we will use an estimate that
originally was developed by Cees van der Eijk (van der Eijk 1998). The PA-measure has been
employed a number of times in similar analyses (van der Eijk & Franklin 1996: 433-4; van der
Brug & van der Eijk 1999: 137-9). PA is calculated for each individual party (se Appendix) and
can also be aggregated into an overall measure of perceptual agreement in a political system. The
measure of Perceptual Agreement is developed for ordered rating scales, such as the eleven-point
left-right scale, and reflects the deviation from a unimodal distribution and ranges from 1 (perfect bimodality, where half of the voters place the party on the most leftist position and half of
the voters place the party on the most rightist position) to +1 (perfect unimodality, where all
voters place a party at the same position). Uniform distributions will get a PA-value of zero. The
higher the PA-value gets, the higher perceptual agreement (van der Eijk 1998).14 A high degree of
agreement among voters on parties policy positions may then be interpreted as that the parties
have managed to communicate their policy positions successfully.15
In a second step, we will continue the analysis with ideological issue voting. The most
straightforward way to operationalize ideological proximity is simply by calculating the absolute
difference between the respondents self-reported left-right position and the parties positions
along the eleven-point left-right scale. Ideological proximity will range from 0 (minimum voterparty distance) to 10 (maximum voter-party distance). To estimate the effects on probability to
vote for a party, we will perform the procedure of stacking the data-set (see van der Eijk &
14

The calculations of Cees van der Eijks Measure of Perceptual Agreement were made in SAS. The syntax for calculating
PA-measures for 7, 10 and 11-point ordered rating scales can be acquired by sending a mail to Henrik.Oscarsson@pol.gu.se.
15
In the CSES data set, the number of parties for which we have left-right placements are limited to six. This means that for
many multi-party systems included in this study, the party systems have been truncated, in some cases dramatically so. Many
multi-party systems, such as Sweden, the Netherlands, and Poland, have more than six relevant parties. In many analyses, we
only include the respondents who voted for parties for which we have available data on left-right positions, which in some
cases is a drastic limitation. Which parties to include in the final data set has been decided by the research teams

behind the respective national election studies. A full list of what parties are included in the study can be found
in the Appendix.

12

Franklin 1996) and thereby convert to a new unit of analyses, namely party-voter dyads. In each
polity, there will be as many party-voter dyads as there are respondents times the number of
parties. The party choice variable will become a binary response variable (0=did not vote for the
party, 1=voted for the party), allowing to estimate the probability to vote for the party with logistic regression.
Perceptual agreement and ideological voting under different institutional contexts
How does the institutional context affect the political communication and the level of ideological
issue voting in a polity? Do parties in proportional multiparty systems communicate in terms of
ideology and are voters in these systems inclined to vote ideologically? In this analysis, we will
estimate the effects of different institutional settings on the perceptual agreement among voters
and the effects of ideological left-right proximity on the probability to vote for a party under
different electoral systems.
Consequently, we expect perceptual agreement and the effects of ideological proximity on party
choice to be greater in proportional systems than in majoritarian systems. This hypothesis can be
deduced from the simple fact that proportional list systems tend to offer more choices, i.e.
effective number of parties (Duverger 1954), and that voters in proportional list systems more
often choose between political programs of parties and not between candidates (Holmberg &
Oscarsson 2003; Holmberg 2002). Thus, we expect ideology to play a more important role in
multi-party list proportional systems than in two-party candidate-oriented majoritarian systems
since parties in a multiparty system are prone to differentiate and positioning themselves in terms
of ideology in an attempt to maintain the clarity in their positions(Downs 1957b: 115-27).
If all this is correct, we also expect that the ideological positions of parties will be more well
known to voters in a proportional list system than in majoritarian. The perceptual accuracy and
perceptual agreement will be higher in proportional election systems than in semi-proportional or
majoritarian systems, since parties in proportional systems have higher incentives to carefully
communicate ideological standpoints and mark the ideological distances to other alternatives
(Downs 1957b). In turn, voters in proportional list systems need to develop skills and well-functioning cognitive schemas to be able to comprehend political messages from the party elites and
orient themselves ideologically.
In table 1, the 37 countries in the analysis have been sorted according to the correlation (eta)
between left-right orientation and party choice. Included in the table are the measure of left-right

13

polarization (Wing Party Distance), and the Weighted Perceptual Agreement (WPA) for each
polity. We also included the type of electoral system (CSES-categorizations), along with some
characteristics of the electoral systems (effective threshold, degree of disproportionality, the
effective number of parties (Anckar 2002).

14

Table 1: Type of Election System, Effective Threshold, Disproportionality, Effective Number of


Parties, Wing Party Ideological Left-Right Distance (WPD), Weighted Perceptual Agreement

.
.
.
.
.
.05
.
.
.
.111

Eta

.047
.
.195
.038
.025
.063
.10
.063
.
.
.063
.
.033
.025
.
.038
.02
.025
.
.01
.04
.125
.08
.05
.
.

Perceptual
Agreement (WPA)

.59
.56
.51
.43
.
.68
.39
.52
.
.57
.39
.39
.44
.40
.52
.43
.54
.82
.43
.51
.37
.54
.45
.44
.45
.
.50
.44
.45
.36
.41
.49
.39
.44
.50
.60
.38

Government
Stability

4.3
4.1
13.6
2.5
3.5
5.6
4.5
2.6
5.2
.
4.4
.
3.8
4.8
.
2.7
2.1
3.4
.
3.3
3.0
2.9
2.6
9.1
.
2.0
2.9
.
.
.
.
2.5
9.1
.
.
2.5
4.3

Wing Party Distance


(WPD)

0.9
8.9
10.
6.0
1.1
1.8
0.3
5.0
3.0
.
3.6
.
4.5
1.1
.
5.5
16.
22.
.
3.1
13.
13.
11.
2.6
.
3.2
8.3
.
.
.
.
5.6
2.6
.
.
5.6
3.3

Dimensionality17

4.0
5.0
5.0
9.7
16.
1.5
2.0
6.6
8.6
.
4.0
.
5.0
0.7
.
9.7
37.
.
.
5.0
37.
25.
37.
8.8
.
37.
22.
.
.
.
32
11.
8.8
.
32
11.
37.

Dis-proportionality

Election System
(CSES)
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
List PR
Semi-Prop
List PR
Semi-Prop
Quasi-Prop Mixed
List PR
Semi-Prop
List PR
Majority
Qvasi-Maj Mixed
Semi-Prop
Qvasi-Prop Mixed
Majority
Qvasi-Maj Mixed
Majority (Alt Vote)
List PR
Prop
Majority
Quasi-Maj Mixed
List PR
Prop
List PR
Qvasi-Maj Mixed
Qvasi-Maj Mixed
List PR
List PR
Qvasi-Maj Mixed
Majority
Majority

Effective # of
parties

1998
1996
1997
2000
1999
1996
1998
2002
1999
1997
1997
1998
1996
1998
1999
1996
1997
1998
1996
1998
1997
1996
1996
1999
2000
1996
1997
2000
1998
1996
2000
1996
1999
2001
2000
2001
2001

Country
Sweden
Czechoslovakia
Poland
Spain
Iceland
Israel
Denmark
Portugal
Switzerland
Lithuania
Norway
Ukraine
New Zeeland
The Netherlands
Russia
Spain
Great Britain
Hungary
Slovenia
Germany
Canada
Japan
Australia
Belgium
Hong Kong
USA
Mexico
Peru
Hong Kong
Romania
Korea
Taiwan
Belgium
Peru
Mexico
Belarus
Thailand

Effective Threshold

Election Year

(WPA)16 and Correlation between Left-Right Self Placements and Party Choice (Eta, Cramers V)

7.78
8.33
6.49
4.86
6.01
5.95
6.12
6.00
4.58
3.71
5.89
5.52
5.35
4.38
6.21
5.56
3.20
4.98
3.13
4.23
2.60
5.19
2.66
3.44
2.34
.
3.34
3.14
1.93
2.94
2.35
2.12
3.88
2.35
3.97
2.63
.

0.65
0.62
0.58
0.59
0.65
0.50
0.68
0.59
0.53
0.52
0.59
0.42
0.53
0.62
0.41
0.62
0.45
0.45
0.35
0.51
0.37
0.49
0.42
0.37
.
.
0.03
0.17
.
0.29
0.42
0.38
0.51
0.11
0.09
0.26
.

.771
.755
.718
.701
.698
.688
.687
.675
.662
.656
.654
.648
.639
.589
.568
.521
.516
.509
.494
.485
.406
.402
.399
.385
.323
.312
.293
.265
.262
.157
.112
.090
.079
.071
.011
Na
.

Note: Data on Electoral Systems are from the CSES macro data set. Data on effective threshold, disproportionality, effective
number of parties and government stability is from Anckar (2003).
n

i=1 i , where pi is the population


The effective number of parties is calculated from Herfindahls index of concentration,
proportion for group i of votes, where 1/H then is the effective number of parties. This measure has the pleasant feature that
H=

p2

16

The parties, for which the perceptual agreement has been calculated, have been weighted according to the
election results (percentages).
17
This variable does only refer to the degree of uni-dimensionality as such and is yet not specifically related to
the left-right dimension, which it will be in the near future by a Spearman correlation between the ordering of the
parties along the j-scale obtained from the unfolding analysis and the left-right ordering of the parties. For this
reason it is not included in the analysis.

15

it will equal n when there are exactly n groups of size 1/n (Lijphart 1984: 120; Pennings 1999a: 259-61) Polarization is a
simple measure of the wing party distance, which is calculated as the difference between the means of the most leftist- and
the most rightist parties18 (see Gilljam & Oscarsson 1996). The left-right polarization is, thus, a first simple indicator of how
successful an application of the left-right division is in a polity and an indicator on the degree of left-right competitiveness.
The degree of proportionality has been calculated as the average deviation between the vote and the seat share of the two
largest parties in each election (Pennings 1999a: 261). Dimensionality refers to the degree of uni-dimensionality and is
computed with MUDFOLD 2.0, based on party evaluations where the respondents were asked to rate the parties on a scale
from 0 to 10, where 0 means strongly dislike that party and 10 strongly like that party.

Among the top-ten countries in table 1, nine have proportional systems, which must be regarded
as a rather strong support for the hypothesis that proportional systems tend to induce ideological
proximity voting. It is also evident that a high degree of perceptual agreement, with the exception
of Spain and The Netherlands, seems to co-occur with a high amount of ideological issue
voting.19
A more elaborated analysis of the relationship between the institutional context and perceptual
agreement confirms that voters under list proportional electoral systems tend to agree more over
parties left-right positions (Average WPA=.51) than voters under majoritarian (Average
WPA=.38) or mixed electoral systems (Average WPA=.38).
The rather strong relationship between type of electoral system and perceptual agreement in table
2 (.48), is not very surprising since we expected that proportional electoral systems should
facilitate the communication between parties and voters in terms of ideology. It was also
expected that the left-right polarization should be highly correlated with perceptual agreement
(rPAxWPD=.67). The greater left-right distance between the two flanking parties in a system, the
higher are the levels of perceptual agreement over parties left-right positions. Obviously,
polarized systems are promoting an effective representation since greater polarization seems to
facilitate for voters to perceive parties ideological positions.

18 The highest levels of left-right polarization can be found in Czechoslovakia (WPD=8.33), Sweden (WPD=7.78) and Poland
(WPD=6.49) (see table 3). In some other countries, the perceived left-right polarization is very low, indicating that the left-right
distinction is not very important, alternatively that the terms left and right have no substantial meaning to voters, notably HongKong (WPD=1.93), Taiwan (WPD=2.12), and Peru (WPD=2.35). Obviously, there are no parties in Peru that fit well into the
categorization of party families used in the CSES, which indicates that the importance of the left-right distinction is negligible in the
Peruan party system. Instead, religion seems to be the main ideological conflict. In Hong-Kong and Taiwan, parties compete mainly
along a dimension pro-con mainland China. For these polities, left-right ideology is not a very appropriate measure of ideology, which
may limit the scope of the following analyses.

19

A bivariate correlation between WPA and Eta yields a coefficient of .75, Pearsons r.

16

Table 2. Bivariate correlations between Weighted Perceptual Agreement and Type of Election
System, Effective Threshold, Disproportionality, Effective Number of Parties, Wing Party
Ideological Left-Right Distance (WPD) (Pearsons r and Eta).
Perceptual
Agreement
Election System1
.48*
Effective Threshold
,-53**
Disproportionality
-.37
Effective # of Parties
.11
Government Stablility
.11
Wing Party Distance
.67**
Uni-dimensionality
.045
1 Election systems were coded for the CSES-categorization as 1 if majoritarian, 2 for Qvasi-maj, 3 for semi.prop. 4
for qvasi-prop, 5 for prop and 6 for List PR. Coefficient for Election System is Eta value. ** Correlation is significant
at the 0.01 level (2-tailed). * Correlation is significant at the 0.05 level (2-tailed). ** Correlation is significant at the 0.01 level (2tailed).

The negative and significant correlation between effective threshold and PA supports the
relationship between type of electoral system and PA as a high electoral threshold may have a
similar effect on a party system as the majoritarian electoral formula by reducing the number of
parties. The weak impact of the effective number of parties is in line with the simplicityhypothesis, since a complex party-system with a great number parties involved in the
competition, should make it even harder for the voters to perceive their positions clearly, most
likely the relationship is curve-linear as. According to the results in table 3, perceptual agreement
seems to be promoted by party systems containing of approximately 2,5 to 5 effective number of
parties (4.7 in average among the list-proportional countries). Thereafter, the PA are decreasing
as the number of parties grows bigger. The degree of uni-dimensionality is positively co-varying
with PA but the relationship is weak and insignificant. Reasonably because the results from the
mudfold analysis are connected to the degree uni-dimensionality in general and is not specifically
related to the left-right dimension as the PA-measure is.

In table 3, we list the results from the logistic regression analyses performed within each polity
available in the data set in order to examine the effect of ideological distance on the probability to
vote for a party. We have sorted the data according to the overall fit of the regression model
(Pseudo R2).

17

Table 3
Effects of ideological left-right proximity on voting within different electoral systems (Logistic
effects, Pseudo R2)

Year
2002
1998
1998
2000
1996
1998
1996
1998
1999
1996
1997
1997
1999
1998
1997
1997
1999
1997
1996
1996
1998
1996
1999
2001
2000
1996
1996
2000
1999
1997

Election
System
EffecCountry
(CSES)
tive n
Portugal
List PR
726
Ucraine
Semi-Prop
241
Denmark
List PR
1537
Spain
List PR
682
Israel
List PR
504
Sweden
List PR
789
Tjeckien
List PR
962
Hungary
Qvasi-Maj
753
Mixed
Iceland
List
PR
1121
New Zeeland
Quasi-Prop
2827
Mixed
Canada
Majority
945
Norway
List PR
1527
Switzerland
List PR
993
1411
The Netherlands List PR
Great Britain
Majority
1853
Poland
List PR
945
Russia
Semi-Prop
849
Lithuania
Semi-Prop
165
Spain
List PR
756
Australia
Majority (Alt 1312
Vote)
Germany
Qvasi-Prop
1461
Mixed
Slovenia
Semi-Prop
642
Belgium Flanders List PR
1584
Peru
List PR
642
Mexico
Quasi-Maj
1016
Mixed
Taiwan
Qvasi-Maj
356
Mixed
Romania
List
PR
451
Korea
Qvasi-Maj
574
Mixed
Belgium
List
PR
1227
Wallonia
Mexico
Quasi-Maj
247
Mixed
All Countries
29119

Voterparty
dyads
4202
1047
9010
2919
2407
4700
5612
3641
5272
15190
4431
9113
4859
8146
5864
5397
4703
477
3339
6175
8536
3141
9345
3482
5412
1013
2104
2910
5444
1360

Intercept
+.13
.10*
-.01*
+.24
-.12*
-.17
-.21
-.11*
.01*
-.17
-.09
-.32
-.22
-.36
+.14
-.47
-.51
.15*
-.31
-.56
-.67
-.56
-.78
-.75
-.80
-.10*
-.71
-1.13
-1.29
-1.39

149314 -.43

Logistic
effect
(b)
-.81
-.52
-.94
-.82
-.53
-.67
-.60
-.56
-.64
-.61
-.57
-.66
-.57
-.73
-.45
-.43
-.38
-.31
-.41
-.42
-.46
-.34
-.36
-.29
-.22
-.29
-.23
-.12
+.02*
-.03*

Pseudo
R2
.36
.35
.33
.33
.26
.26
.26
.25
.25
.25
.22
.22
.21
.21
.19
.18
.17
.16
.16
.13
.13
.12
.10
.10
.09
.08
.07
.02
.00*
.00*

-.45

.17

Note: Belarus, Hong-Kong, Japan, Peru (2000), Thailand and USA is excluded from the analysis, due to lack of data
on both left-right self-placements and party-placements. * means that the coefficient is not significant (p>.05).

As expected, there are significant and large negative bivariate effects of ideological distance on
party choice in many of the countries where the left-right dimension is strong. The probability to
vote for a party decreases with ideological distance. In concord with previous findings, the best
model fit (Nagelkirkes maximum rescaled pseudo R2) is found in Portugal, Ukraine, Denmark
and Spain, whereas in Korea, Taiwan, Romania, Belgian Wallonia, Peru and Mexico, there are
very small or non-existing effects of ideological left-right proximity on party choice.
What about the effects of institutional contexts? Seven of the top ten countries in table 3 do have
proportional list electoral systems, but there is no clear-cut association. In some non-proportional
systems, the level of ideological left-right voting is very high, such as in Ukraina, Hungary and
18

New Zeeland. And there are a number of proportional systems where the levels of ideological
left-right voting is very low, such as in Romania, Belgium and Peru.
A more formal test of the impact of institutional context is of course possible. For all countries
included in the study, we can model a multiplicative interaction effect of electoral system (0=nonproportional; 1=proportional) on the relationship between ideological proximity and probability
to vote. The results show that there is a small but significant institutional effect on ideological
voting, i.e. there is a larger negative effect of ideological distance on voting probability in
proportional list systems than in non-proportional list systems. That the institutional effect is very
small can be illustrated by the estimated probability functions in figure 1.
Figure 1: Ideological Proximity x Probability to Vote in Proportional List Systems vs Semi-Proportional/Majoritarian Systems.
,5

,4

,3

,2

,1

0,0
0

10

Note: Data are from CSES Module 1 (unweighted). The probabilites to vote are estimated from a logistic regression
analysis of a stacked dataset (voter-party dyads). Only respondents voting for parties that were located on the leftright dimension is included in the analysis. The filled line represents the probability-to-vote curve among voters in
proportional list systems. The dotted line represents the probability-to-vote curve proximity among voters in nonproportional list systems, i.e. semi-proportional/majoritarian systems.

Figure 3 show the estimated probabilities to vote for parties that are located at different left-right
distances from a voter. The probability curve is somewhat steeper in polities that have
proportional list systems, i.e. the effects of ideological proximity are larger in proportional
systems than in non-proportional systems. This simple analysis and the findings may not
convince us that proportional list systems encourages ideological voting, but nevertheless give at
least some support to the hypothesis.

19

Conclusions
In this article some first steps towards a more systematic study of the impact of institutional
context on voting behavior have been taken. Here, we have estimated the effect of institutional
context on the relationship between ideological left-right proximity and party choice in 37
countries. A simultaneous modeling of macro and micro data showed a weak but significant
contextual effect of type of electoral system (proportional vs. non-proportional) on PA and the
level of ideological voting.
Our main expectation, regarding the relationship between high perceptual agreement and
ideological proximity voting among voters in proportional systems with polarized multiparty
systems, gained support by the data. There were a rather strong positive relationship between type
of electoral system and perceptual agreement (.48) and left-right polarization (.67). The parties leftright positions are more known and common to voters in proportional systems and the effect of
ideology on party choice is stronger in proportional systems than in non-proportional systems.
Proportional multiparty-systems seem to a higher extent to induce parties to communicate their
policy positions by means of ideology, which affects both the perceptions and the voting behavior
among the citizens.
Among the top-ten countries with the highest eta-values between left-right orientation and party
choice, nine out of ten countries had proportional systems. The effect of the institutional context
on ideological distance versus the probability to vote for a party did however, not produce any
clear-cut evidence even though seven of the top ten countries did have proportional list electoral
systems. Nevertheless, there is a small and significant effect on that ideological proximity is larger
in proportional systems than in non-proportional systems.
The results from the initial diagnostic analyses show that the left-right dimension not is very salient
or meaningful in some of the countries included in the study. This indicates that the left-right
dimension is not a valid operationalization of ideology in some countries, which raises doubts over
the validity of the findings. However, if only polities where the left-right dimension plays an
important role are included, the support for this main finding becomes stronger, whereby a more
elaborated conclusion would be that among countries where left-right dimension is an important
distinction for voters, we find a significant effect of institutional context on the levels of ideological
voting.

20

Agenda for future research


The list of alternative explanations to the finding that left-right ideological proximity voting is
more important in proportional than in non-proportional electoral systems is quite long. A set of
other institutional electoral rules may also generate higher levels of ideological voting, such as the
existence of thresholds or personal vote. There are also a number of informal-institutional factors
that may influence the level of ideological voting in a country, such as the degree of
dimensionality in the party space, the number of parties in the party system and the particular set
of parties present in the system. A more elaborated analysis may also have to include more
determinants of party choice. In the near future, this article will be updated with the most recent
data available from the CSES and we will include a measure on the degree of left-right
dimensionality in every polity, along with a more sophisticated analysis where we will control for
the effects of the above-mentioned factors in order to make the results more reliable.
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