What Determines Preferences for an Electoral System? Evidence from a Binding Referendum

36 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2017 Last revised: 30 Jul 2018

See all articles by Guillem Riambau

Guillem Riambau

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Yale-NUS College

Steven Stillman

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Geua Boe-Gibson

University of Waikato

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: August 9, 2017

Abstract

Much has been written about politicians' preferences for electoral systems, yet little is known about the preferences of voters. In 1993, New Zealand had a binding electoral referendum on the same day as the general election where voters chose between keeping a single plurality system (First Past the Post) or introducing a pure proportional one (Mixed Member Proportional). This paper merges data from all nationwide polling stations to Census data on local voters to examine what drives citizens' preferences for an electoral system. We find that strategic partisan interest was a key driver; voters overwhelmingly preferred the system that most benefited their favorite party. However, socioeconomic characteristics and social values also mattered; people who held more progressive values, were outside the dominant religion and lived in urban areas were much more likely to vote to change to a proportional system. Survey data show that these findings hold at the individual level and further that individuals who were angry with the economy were much more likely to vote against the status quo, regardless of their background, party preferences or social values. This behavior is likely to have ultimately balanced the result in favor of Mixed Member Proportional.

Suggested Citation

Riambau, Guillem and Stillman, Steven and Boe-Gibson, Geua, What Determines Preferences for an Electoral System? Evidence from a Binding Referendum (August 9, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3015933 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3015933

Guillem Riambau (Contact Author)

National University of Singapore (NUS) - Yale-NUS College ( email )

Singapore

Steven Stillman

Free University of Bozen-Bolzano ( email )

Via Sernesi 1
39100 Bozen-Bolzano (BZ), Bozen 39100
Italy

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072
Germany

Geua Boe-Gibson

University of Waikato

Te Raupapa
Private Bag 3105
Hamilton, 3240
New Zealand

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