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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

6.3 - MEANS OF DISCIPLINE RELATED TO PROPORTIONALISM

There is, to my knowledge, no systematic discussion about the third hypothesis that proportionalism gives strong means of discipline to the party leaderships. Rather there are just occasional assertions of the hypothesis, or similar ideas. Duverger (1964, p 183), for instance, writes that "proportional representation with fixed lists and the ranking of candidates in strict order naturally makes parliamentary representatives dependent on the leaders within the party who prepare the lists and determine the order of the names." Similarly Matthew Shugart and John Carey (1992, s 173) write about "mechanisms, such as a closed party list, by which party leaders exert discipline over their rank and file." But even if the references to the hypothesis are scattered and few, they all seem to go in the same direction. I have not come across any denials of the hypothesis, and it is thus, as it seems, uncontroversial.

Still, the mechanisms behind the hypothesis can hardly be as simple as indicated in the quotations above, namely that those deciding about the lists easily can eliminate obstinate candidates. This argument applies equally well to the majoritarian case, since also there those responsible for the nominations obviously can exclude those who do not follow the group. We have to look for more fundamental mechanisms.

The main point seems to be that the incentives for campaigning are very different in the two types of systems. In a majoritarian system the efforts of the local party organization in the constituency, as well as the efforts, and the personality, of the individual candidate, are of great importance for the result. The campaigning efforts of a candidate in a single-member constituency will to a very large extent favor the candidate himself. If the candidate campaigns successfully the voters will vote for just him. Therefore, to a considerable extent, a legislator in a majoritarian context is the architect of his or her own fortune.

When considering the corresponding mechanisms in proportinal systems I will start with list systems. In such a system an imagined campaigning candidate in a constituency - which always is a multimember one - does not work for himself but rather, and necessarily, produces a collective good. The obvious reason is that the voters cannot reward an appreciated campaigner individually - they have to vote for his party rather than for the candidate himself. Things being like that it is interesting to ask more exactly about the nature of the collective good produced by the imagined local candidate.

At first it may then be stated that he works for his party rather than for himself. Furthermore, and to the extent that his constituency party organization is not a meaningful unit for the voters, he will be working for the national party rather than for the constituency organization. For that kind of work he is, however, because of his local, low level, position, probably most unfit. The amount of the collective good produced by his campaigning will therefore be quite small, and it will also be diffusely spread out, to a considerable extent beyond the borders of his own constituency. Thus, from the imagined candidate's own point of view, his efforts will in all likelihood seem wasted. The conclusion is that the imagined candidate will remain imagined. There will not be much local campaigning at all. This, incidentally, is exactly what the theory of collective action (Mancur Olson, 1965) tells us: the incentives for producing collective goods are notoriously weak.

At the summits of the parties in a proportional list system things are however different. For the party leaderships residing there campaigning may very well be profitable. Their campaigning is at first relatively effective since they are in the proper positions for that kind of work. Furthermore, on the whole, they will reap the fruits of their own efforts. True, it may be argued that a party's candidates in all constituencies benefit from what the leadership is doing, but even so the leadership itself also benefits more the more candidates it really gets into the legislature. It is usually better to belong to the leadership of a big party than to that of a small one.

It is this necessary dominance of the party leaderships in campaigning in proportional list systems, I would argue, which also supplies the leaderships with power over their legislators. If the leadership of a party wants control a certain legislator or candidate, by sticks or by carrots, the latter usually has no personal resources of his own, such as for instance popularity among voters, to mobilize for resistance.

This argument applies however, as I have said, primarily to pure list elections. In other kinds of proportional systems, in which the candidates' individual campaigns matter to some extent, for instance because the voters can add or erase names on the lists, or because (as in the Finish case as described in part  5.2) there are no lists at all, the effects described are more or less attenuated. Or, in other words, the means of discipline become weaker and more similar to those in majoritarian systems.