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Reconsidering Representation: How Electoral Districts Shape Party Systems

Final Report Summary - RRHEDSPS (Reconsidering Representation: How Electoral Districts Shape Party Systems)

Proportional representation with districts, the most prevalent electoral system in the democratic world, is often characterized by substantial variation: within the same country, some voters cast their ballots in districts of two, three, or four representatives and thus practically under quasi-majoritarian democracy while others cast their ballots in districts of up to twentyfold that magnitude, and thus under proportional rule. The analysis of electoral systems is vast, yet with almost no exception the literature overlooks this key element. This project is the first large-scale study that conceptualizes, theorizes, collects data from a broad cross-section of countries, and empirically evaluates the political outcomes of this within-country variation.
I demonstrate that within-country variation in how votes are counted and transformed into seats is consequential for a variety of political outcomes. Among other findings, I show that it results in inequality in parliamentary representation and in conservative bias in parliament: the parliamentary pie of seats is biased in favor of conservative voters and underrepresents progressive voters. I further show that it affects how plethora of voices in the electorate are transformed into seats, and how regional interests, both within and across parties, are represented in parliament. The study has important implications for the design of electoral systems.