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Erik Moberg ã:
A Theory of Democratic Politics
 
 

16 - PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUTIONS WITH MAJORITARIAN ELECTIONS: THE MAIN ACTORS AND THE VOTERS

Here, as always when we are talking about general elections in democracies, we have to do with compound voting. The parties may thus mix various specific or general instructions in their programs, and they may try to obtain some elements of delegation in the relations to the voters, and each individual voter will have to react to all this in his or her personal way. So far everything is the same as in the parliamentary, proportional. Since we are dealing with parliamentary systems, with fairly cohesive and disciplined parties, it also seems reasonable to conclude that the parties, as in the proportional setting, have a clear capacity for credible commitment towards the voters in general, or towards particular segments of the electorate. A main problem, however, concerns the extent to which they are likely to make use of this latter capacity, the one related to specified target groups.

In the parliamentary, proportional setting, the voters, we remember, could be deterred from voting for general instructions, for example ideological ones, since such votes were easily wasted. In many situations the voters would rather settle for the second best and vote for some specific instruction. Here, these mechanisms are clearly different. Since we are dealing with one-party executives rather than coalition executives, the winning party will have no difficulty in implementing its general instructions, and therefore a voter, who likes a party's general principles, is not deterred from voting for it. The conclusion drawn in the previous chapter, that specific instructions tend to drive out general instructions, is thus not valid here. General instructions will obviously have a place in the election campaigns.

After that conclusion it is tempting to continue by asking whether, in fact, general instructions even tend to drive out specific instructions. I believe that there will be, at least, some such tendency. The reason is that the two parties in this setting, since either of them is going to form the executive single-handedly, must show some fitness for being able to govern, for statesmanship, or, in other words, for caring about general things, in order to get votes. The voters know that they are voting, directly, for a government. In the proportional setting that is not so. There the formation of the executive is, exclusively, a matter for the parties. The voters are devoid of means of influence in that respect, and to a large extent restricted to expressing their interests. Thus, in this situation, where the voters are, in fact, voting for a government, they are likely to be interested in, and to respond to, ideological signals from the campaigning parties.

Ideology may thus be important and politics may therefore be quite well represented by models such as the one in the figure in part 15.3. The implication is that politics is mainly about ideological matters, and that the ideologies represented by the two parties are fairly close to each other, and also close to the median position on a single scale, which may be a left-right scale. The ideologies are thus not extreme. This kind of politics could be called median voter ideological politics.

This leads to some important conclusions. A first one is that phrases such as "the winner takes all", or "majoritarian politics", which are sometimes used for describing the parliamentarian, majoritarian setting, are wrong, at least to the extent that we are dealing with median voter ideological politics. Rather, and since all voters in a sense contribute to determining the median position, it may be appropriate to talk about ideological consensus. Another conclusion is that we should not necessarily expect very narrow, or minimal, majorities in the legislature. Broad majorities, if they occur, should not be a surprise.

For countries characterized by median voter ideological politics we may, furthermore, conclude that a regular change of the governing party is likely to occur. The reason is that the parties take positions close to the median position and there will always, ex ante, be a considerable uncertainty about the electoral payoff of the positioning. In addition to that the mechanisms illustrated by the cube rule (see part 15.1) will usually make sure that small differences in electoral payoff are transformed into big differences in the legislature. The possibilities for a big party to dominate a country's politics for long periods, as in the parliamentary, proportional case, are consequently slim.

So far I have only talked about the parties' efforts to win elections but it is, since we are dealing with single member constituencies, and as I have already mentioned several times, also necessary to consider the individual candidates' efforts. These candidates, to the extent that they engage in campaigns of their own, will, as it seems, have to rely on emphasizing their own personalities in various ways. Consequently we shall expect, in this system, beside instructions, a certain amount of delegation as well.