Ever since Aristotle, the comparative study of political regimes and their performance has relied on classifications and typologies. The study of democracy today has been influenced heavily by Arend Lijphart’s typology of consensus versus majoritarian democracy. Scholars have applied it to more than 100 countries and sought to demonstrate its impact on no less than 70 dependent variables. This paper summarizes our knowledge about the origins, functioning, and consequences of two basic types of democracy: those that concentrate power and those that share and divide power. In doing so, it will review the experience of established democracies and question the applicability of received wisdom to new democracies.
Josep M. Colomer
Logical models and statistical techniques have been used for measuring political and institutional variables, quantifying and explaining the relationships between them, testing theories, and evaluating institutional and policy alternatives. A number of cumulative and complementary findings refer to major institutional features of a political process of decision-making: from the size of the assembly to the territorial structure of the country, the electoral system, the number of parties in the assembly and in the government, the government’s duration, and the degree of policy instability. Mathematical equations based on sound theory are validated by empirical tests and can predict precise observations.
Damien Bol and Tom Verthé
People do not always vote for the party that they like the most. Sometimes, they choose to vote for another one because they want to maximize their influence on the outcome of the election. This behavior driven by strategic considerations is often labeled as “strategic voting.” It is opposed to “sincere voting,” which refers to the act of voting for one’s favorite party.
Strategic voting can take different forms. It can consist in deserting a small party for a bigger one that has more chances of forming the government, or to the contrary, deserting a big party for a smaller one in order to send a signal to the political class. More importantly the strategies employed by voters differ across electoral systems. The presence of frequent government coalitions in proportional representation systems gives different opportunities, or ways, for people to influence the electoral outcome with their vote. In total, the literature identifies four main forms of strategic voting. Some of them are specific to some electoral systems; others apply to all.
Rational choice theory may seem like a separate theoretical approach with its own forbidding mathematics. However, the central assumptions of rational choice theory are very similar to those in mainstream political behavior and even interpretive sociology. Indeed, many of the statistical methods used in empirical political behavior assume axiomatic models of voter choice. When we consider individual voting behavior, the contribution of rational choice has been to formalize what empirical political scientists do anyway, and provide some new tools. However, it is when we consider collective voting choice—what elections mean and what kind of policy outcomes result—that rational choice leads to new, counterintuitive insights. Rational choice also has a normative dimension. Without voter rationality the traditional understanding of democracy as popular choice makes little sense.
Together, the European Parliament (EP) and the Council of the European Union form the bicameral legislature of the European Union (EU). However, as the analysis of voting behavior shows, decision-making is structured differently in the two institutions. In the EP, competition takes place between European party groups along a left-right and a rising pro-anti EU integration dimension. In the Council, ideology and party politics play a minor role. Voting behavior of ministers is determined by different national interests on an issue-by-issue basis. Furthermore, voting in the Council is dominated by the so-called culture of consensus. Despite the extension of qualified majority voting (QMV) to most areas of EU decision-making, many legislative proposals are adopted unanimously. Even if there is dissent, it is usually only one or two member states voting against the proposal. This makes it difficult to discover patterns of conflict and coalition formation through Council voting data. At the same time, consensus-seeking is something the Council and the EP have in common. In the EP, voting cohesion is high not only within groups but also in the EP plenary as a whole, with a grand coalition between Social Democrats and Conservatives forming frequently, often including the Liberals as well as parties on the left side of the political spectrum. Notwithstanding signs of a decline in consensual decision-making in the wake of the financial and the migration crisis, voting cohesion dominates within the Council and the EP, as well as across institutions in bicameral decision-making.