Open-list electoral systems can help reduce polarization

Closed lists in political elections make people take the ideology and brand of the party more into account when voting, while in electoral systems with open lists people vote in a more personal and less ideological way. This is the main conclusion of a study carried out by researchers from the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) and the University of Houston (USA) who analyzed some characteristics of democratic elections.

The study, published in the journal European Political Science Reviewoffers new evidence showing the impact on ideological voting levels that the intra-party dimension has (whether the system focuses more on local candidates or on party branding).

Citizens pay more attention to ideology when voting on closed lists and to the person when they are open

Among other findings, the researchers found that in proportional representation systems, ideology determines voting to a greater extent when lists are closed. Furthermore, the results obtained suggest that this effect is slightly amplified in the case of a high number of candidates at the electoral level.

“The adoption of electoral systems that generate incentives for the cultivation of the popular vote (open lists), as occurs, for example, in Brazil, Finland, Luxembourg or Switzerland, can contribute to the holding of less ideological elections and, therefore, to the reduction of polarization”, points out Pedro Riera, professor at the Department of Social Sciences at UC3M and co-author of the article.

Systems that encourage people to vote (open lists), as in Brazil, Finland, Luxembourg or Switzerland, can help create less ideological elections and therefore reduce polarization

Pedro Rieira (UC3M)

In open list electoral systems, the parties do not establish an order of candidates, but the voters themselves configure it. That is, the most voted candidate of a party is the one who occupies the first position, while the second most elected occupies the second position, and so on.

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In these cases, “the personal characteristics of the candidates have great influence: who are you? Where were you born? What did you do? What is your job? Where do you live?… these are things that citizens take into account when voting”, points out Riera. “There is much more competition between candidates from the same party, something that does not happen in Spain where closed lists are used and where it makes no sense for the 23rd candidate on a list to compete with the 19th candidate”, she adds. .

The personal characteristics of candidates on open lists greatly influence

Pedro Rieira (UC3M)

To carry out the study, the researchers used spatial models of politics and used data going back to 1996 from five waves of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, a database that contains information from more than fifty countries. Also, they took Greece as a case study, which is especially interesting because, depending on the elections, they use either open or closed lists.

“One of the things we suggest, based on our results, is that the adoption of open lists can have this potential advantage of making political elections less ideological and perhaps more focused on other types of elements that different candidacies can contribute”, he adds. Pedro Rieira.

Reference:

Riera, P. et al. “Electoral systems and ideological voting” European Political Science Review (2022)

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