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Citizen Representation and Electoral Systems  

Benjamin Ferland and Matt Golder

One common way to think about citizen representation is in terms of the ideological distance between citizens and their representatives. Are political elites ideologically congruent with citizen preferences? Electoral systems are an especially important political institution to consider when studying citizen representation because they influence the size and ideological composition of party systems, how votes are translated into legislative seats, the types of governments that form after elections, and the types of policies that get implemented. In effect, electoral institutions affect each stage of the representation process as one moves from citizen preferences to policy outcomes. Research on ideological congruence indicates that electoral rules can cause distortions in citizen-elite congruence to emerge and disappear as one moves through the representation process. In this regard, studies show that proportional electoral systems enjoy a representational advantage over majoritarian systems when it comes to legislative congruence (the ideological distance between the median legislative party and the median citizen) but that this advantage disappears when it comes to government congruence (the ideological distance between the government and the median citizen). Although research on citizen-elite ideological congruence has made significant progress over the last two decades, several new lines of inquiry are still worth pursuing. One is to move beyond the traditional focus on the left–right ideological dimension to evaluate citizen representation in a truly multidimensional framework. Another is to develop a unified theoretical framework for thinking about ideological congruence and ideological responsiveness. For too long, scholars have conducted studies of citizen-elite congruence and responsiveness in relative isolation, even though they address fundamentally related issues. In terms of measurement issues, progress can be made by developing better instruments to help locate citizens and elites on a common metric and paying more attention to the policymaking dynamics associated with minority and coalition governments. Existing studies of ideological congruence focus on the United States and the parliamentary democracies of Western Europe. Scholars might fruitfully extend the study of citizen representation to presidential democracies, other regions of the world, and even authoritarian regimes. Among other things, this may require that scholars think about how to conceptualize and measure citizen representation in countries where parties are not programmatic or where elites are not necessarily elected.

Article

Activism of Political Parties in Africa  

George M. Bob-Milliar

Since the early 1990s, African states have been democratizing. Political parties now dominate the public spaces in many African democracies. The past 26 years have witnessed the growth and consolidation of “party democracy” in Africa. This is the longest period of uninterrupted growth of electoral politics in many countries on the continent. Recent Afrobarometer surveys show that almost two-thirds (63%) of Africans support pluralistic politics. Party identification in sub-Saharan Africa has also been on the rise. Across 16 states Afrobarometer surveyed, a majority of Africans (65%) claim they “feel close to” a political party in their country. The mass public who identified with a particular political party increased by 7 percentage points between 2002 and 2015. Political parties are the vehicles for citizens to engage in party activism. The women and men who join a political party become the party activists. Party activists are the lifeblood of the party organization. And political party activism in sub-Saharan Africa is geared toward the election of the party and its candidates into office. Consequently, party activism is a continuum of high-intensity and low-intensity political activities. Party activists vary in their levels of involvement. Thus, it is a mixture of fanfare and aggressive participation. Political party activism is a multifaceted process where party members undertake any of the following political activities: display a poster, donate money, help with fund-raising, deliver election leaflets, help at a party function, attend party meetings, undertake door-to-door campaigning, and run for party office. The involvement of party members usually varies from active engagement to passive attachment to the party. There were several motives for party activists getting involved in “high-intensity participation.” Because of the crucial role party activists play in the intra- and inter-party competition, the parties provide some incentives to get members commitment. At the organizational level, party activists present themselves for election into party offices at the grassroots, regionally or nationally. They devote their time and financial resources in furtherance of the party agenda. In return, party activists expect the party to reward them with selective incentives when power is won. That said, more research is required at the country level to enable us to construct the profile of the African party activists.

Article

Party System Polarization and Electoral Behavior  

Ruth Dassonneville and Semih Çakır

When deciding whether to turn out to vote and what party to support, citizens are constrained by the available options within their party system. A rich literature shows that characteristics of this choice set, which capture how “meaningful” the choice is, have pervasive effects on electoral behavior and public opinion. Party system polarization in particular, which captures how ideologically dispersed the parties are, has received much attention in earlier work. More ideologically polarized party systems are associated with higher turnout rates, while both proximity voting and mechanisms of accountability appear strengthened when parties are more ideologically distinct. However, party system polarization also strengthens party attachments and entails a risk of fostering mass polarization.