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Article

Christopher Wlezien and Stuart N. Soroka

The link between public opinion and public policy is of special importance in representative democracies, as we expect elected officials to care about what voters think. Not surprisingly, a large body of literature tests whether policy is a function of public preferences. Some literature also considers the mechanisms by which preferences are converted to policy. Yet other work explores whether and how the magnitude of opinion representation varies systematically across issues and political institutions. In all this research, public opinion is an independent variable—an important driver of public policy change—but it is also a dependent variable, one that is a consequence of policy itself. Indeed, the ongoing existence of both policy representation and public responsiveness is critical to the functioning of representative democracy.

Article

Carolien van Ham and Staffan Lindberg

The quality of elections in Africa demonstrates considerable progress from the early attempts in the 1950s and 1960s to the increasingly democratic era following the end of the Cold War. In terms of scope, 46 of 49 countries in sub-Saharan Africa now select the most powerful public offices (i.e., the executive and/or legislature) via elections, and reserved power domains have become relatively uncommon. In terms of choice, single-party elections, once so common across Africa, have now all but vanished from the continent. However, the integrity of elections still varies widely, ranging from elections with serious irregularities to elections that are fully free and fair. Even so, considerable progress is apparent over the last three decades. A full 47% of countries in sub-Saharan Africa now hold elections that are free and fair or only involve minor irregularities. Equally important, electoral interruptions in the form of coup d’état, civil war, or annulment of elections have become very rare. Africa is also a continent where the contemporary trend of elections generating broader democratization is particularly palpable. By providing opportunities for citizens to remove incumbents from office and generating expansion of civil liberties after elections are over, stimulating citizens and other actors to increase pressure for more democratic freedoms, elections seem on average to have been conducive to democratic developments in Africa. Elections also increasingly lead to turnovers, especially elections of high electoral integrity, where on average 34% are associated with alternations in power. Taking a long-term view on developments from 1960 until 2017, African elections have seen an impressive increase in quality over time, and provide a much more significant contribution to democratization in sub-Saharan Africa than is often acknowledged in the literature.

Article

Miguel Carreras and Igor Acácio

Latin American political systems experience significant levels of institutional uncertainty and unpredictability. One of the main dimensions of this institutional and political instability is the high level of electoral volatility in the region. In the last 30 years, traditional parties that had competed successfully for several decades abruptly collapsed or weakened considerably in a number of Latin American countries. New parties (or electoral movements) and political outsiders have attracted considerable electoral support in several national and subnational elections in the region. Even when the main partisan actors remain the same from one election to the next, it is not uncommon to observe large vote swings from one established party to another. While some scholars and observers expected that the instability in electoral outcomes would decline as democracies aged and consolidated, electoral volatility has remained high in recent decades in many Latin American countries. However, in other Third Wave Latin American democracies (e.g., Chile, Costa Rica, Honduras, and Uruguay), the patterns of interparty competition have been much more stable, which suggests we should avoid blanked generalizations about the level of party system institutionalization and volatility in the region. Cross-national variation in the stability of electoral outcomes has also motivated interesting scholarly work analyzing the causes and the consequences of high volatility in Latin American democracies. One of the major findings of this literature is that different forms of institutional discontinuity, such as the adoption of a new constitution, a significant enfranchisement, electoral system reforms, and irregular changes in the legislative branch (e.g., a dissolution of Congress) or in the executive branch (e.g., a presidential interruption), can result in higher volatility. Another major determinant of instability in electoral outcomes is the crisis of democratic representation experienced by several Latin American countries. When citizens are disenchanted with the poor performance and moral failures (e.g., corruption) of established political parties, they are more likely to support new parties or populist outsiders. Weak party system institutionalization and high electoral volatility have serious consequences for democratic governability. Institutionalized party systems with low electoral volatility promote consensus-building and more moderate policies because political parties are concerned about their long-term reputation and constrain the decisions of political leaders. In contrast, party systems with high volatility can lead to the rise of outsider presidents that have more radical policy preferences and are not constrained by strongly organized parties. Electoral volatility also undermines democratic representation. First, the fluidity of the party system complicates the task of voters when they want to hold the members of the incumbent party accountable for bad performance. Second, high instability in the patterns of interparty competition hinders citizens’ ability to navigate programmatic politics. Finally, electoral volatility augments the cognitive load required to vote and foments voter frustration, which can lead to higher rates of invalid voting.

Article

Historically, women have been underrepresented in Latin America. In recent years, many countries promoted electoral reforms to improve the representation of women in national political institutions. The reforms incorporated affirmative action mechanisms (quota laws) and/or the principle of gender parity in the registry of candidacies that forced the parties to allow women to compete for political office. These changes, together with women-friendly electoral systems and the active commitment of political actors (women’s movements, academics, women in politics, judges, and electoral officials) have allowed formal and informal collaborative mechanisms to monitor, reinforce, and demand compliance with the laws, which have increased the levels of women’s political representation.