English title: The Role of Electoral Systems for the Translation of Political Trust into Electoral Participation

Author(s): Christoph Arndt -

Language: English

Type: Book chapter

Year: 2015


Common wisdom would predict the politically disenchanted to abstain from voting on Election Day, and various studies have shown that crumbling political trust or negative evaluations of democracy affect turnout negatively. From a comparative perspective, however, there is a considerable and non-explained variation across Western democracies with regard to political trust, dissatisfaction with democracy, and turnout. Some countries still have high turnout in general and high turnout among the disenchanted in particular, while other countries face declining turnout among the disenchanted while keeping overall turnout at middle-rate levels, and another group of countries suffer from low turnout as a general phenomenon. I argue that these differences are explained by the electoral system and its mode of operation. Electoral systems with majoritarian rules or high thresholds indeed make the dissatisfied abstain, while highly proportional systems with low or no thresholds keep disenchanted and dissatisfied democrats at the ballots. This is because the latter systems offer alternatives for the dissatisfied as protest parties or parties on the fringes have low entry costs, providing cynical voters alternatives to abstention. In contrast, majoritarian systems or high electoral thresholds offer no competitive alternatives for dissatisfied voters, meaning that these voters stay home on Election Day. Another related effect is that highly proportional and open systems produce a lower number of cynical voters, as their interests and preferences are represented in the political system, and these voters therefore reinvest their trust in the political system. Using a series of multilevel logit analyses, the paper applies data on political trust and turnout from the European Social Survey (ESS) for 14 European countries. I find support for the suspected difference between open proportional systems and majoritarian systems. In the former, lower levels of political trust still produce higher levels of turnout compared to majoritarian systems. Proportional systems applying high thresholds either through formal thresholds or low district magnitudes were expected to fall in between, but surprisingly showed more unclear patterns. The analysis yielded mostly additive effects of the electoral systems and the trust index, but there were also signs for a multiplicative effect in case of the PR systems with low entry costs. Moreover, if we take three model countries for each electoral system (Denmark, Germany and the UK), we observe clearer differences in the translation of distrust into abstention across the distinguished electoral systems.

From page no: 109

To page no: 129

Anthology: Political Trust and Disenchantment with Politics. International Perspectives.

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