Electoral Systems and Political Attitudes: Experimental Evidence
31 Pages Posted: 13 May 2021
Date Written: May 12, 2021
The quality of a democracy is, in part, determined by citizen attitudes. In particular, electoral winners and losers should believe that elections are fair, and interparty animosity should be minimal. While scholars have argued that disproportional electoral institutions increase the perceived system legitimacy gap between electoral winners and losers and increase affective polarization, they have relied on cross-sectional observational data. As correlates of electoral systems are also correlated with these attitudes, causal statements linking systems to attitudes are problematic. We also do not know whether people react to unfairness endemic to plurality systems or the downstream effects of these institutions, such as more vitriolic campaigns or elite polarization. Using a novel large-scale behavioral game that randomized participants to different electoral systems with other participants and that varied both in rules and number of parties to choose from, we examine whether electoral institutions directly affect subsequent attitudes. We find that non-plurality systems with many parties have the smallest winner-loser gap. While increasing the number of parties decrease interparty animosity, we found, surprisingly, that plurality systems on their own had the lowest levels of interparty animosty. However, within proportional systems, increasing the number of parties decreases interparty animosity.
Keywords: public opinion, polarization
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