Introduction - Electoral systems come in many different varieties. There is a rich, and growing, body of literature, most of it theoretical but also increasingly based on empirical analysis, exploring the relationship between electoral systems and governance. While this literature has largely been based on assumptions and experiences derived from well‐established democracies in the developed world, there have been growing efforts to understand what the impact of different electoral systems may be in countries in the developing world. Among other things, the literature suggests that electoral systems can have an impact on the degree of coherence/fragmentation of the party system and broader government effectiveness, as well as on public policy outcomes and the behavior and incentives of political actors and resulting accountability linkages. Electoral systems also can help shape the calculations of politicians about policy choices, and they also provide different incentives to make narrow or more broad based appeals to the population, depending among other things on whether the electoral system encourages the proliferation of political parties or not. Understanding electoral incentives is therefore important to understand how institutional rules of the game interact with stakeholders - on the demand as well as on the supply side.
Types of electoral systems - There are many different electoral systems currently in use and many more permutations on each form (Reynolds et al. 2005). The rationale underpinning all proportional representation (PR) systems is to consciously reduce the disparity between a party's share of the national vote and its share of the parliamentary seats: if a major party wins 40 per cent of the votes, it should win approximately 40 per cent of the seats, and a minor party with 10 per cent of the votes should also gain 10 per cent of the legislative seats. Proportionality is usually achieved through party lists of candidates, and these lists can be either open (where voters rank the candidates in order of preference) or closed (where the ordering is in the hands of the party leadership and is decided prior to the elections).
This is, in essence, what David Mayhew (1975) originally termed 'the electoral connection' when analyzing the incentives that politicians face in the US House of Representatives but that has much more universal application: in candidate‐centered systems, candidates and politicians aim at winning support from their constituents in specific localities by claiming that they can 'bring home the bacon' in the form of particularized benefits and targeted projects. Evidence emerging from a multi‐year research program on Africa Power and Politics, for example, suggests that, in several African countries including Ghana, under plurality systems, politicians are keen to 'deliver the goods' to their particular constituency in order to increase their re-election chances (Lindberg 2010).
Electoral malpractice - Birch's reasoning for these echoes many of the points that have been highlighted in this article. All else being equal, according to Birch politicians will be more likely to engage in electoral misconduct when they have at their disposal a reliable means of manipulating elections. Certain aspects of SMD electoral systems make the manipulation of elections more reliable than under PR given i) the incentives faced by individual candidates and party leaders to engage in electoral misconduct; and ii) the mechanical effects of electoral systems in turning votes into seats. They also have greater ability to enforce party discipline than under plurality systems. In single member district systems, on the other hand, reputations are separable and sanctions are more difficult for the central party organizations to apply because of the greater autonomy afforded candidates. Thus, trade‐offs should be made more often on an individual than on a collective basis, as the benefits of misconduct accrue directly to the candidate. (Birch 2007) And she suggested that rulers are likely to resort to the first two forms of malpractice much more often than the third because that is the aspect of the electoral process that is easiest for domestic and international actors to monitor, and therefore the one that can undermine their legitimacy the most. Birch's regression analyses revealed some interesting regional variations in the manipulation of elections.
Of course, the apparent rising volume and intensity of negative ads may reflect legal changes in how campaigns are funded in a post-Citizens United landscape. A related 2013 study in The Forum by Michael Franz of Bowdoin, "Interest Groups in Electoral Politics: 2012 in Context," provides additional analysis and data relating to the role of outside groups in the most recent ad wars. In another May 2013 post for "The Monkey Cage," Franz examines data suggesting that the type and potentially lower quality of ads by outside groups may have played a role in the election. The Romney campaign's "reliance on outside spending put a significant burden on those groups to produce and air ads that could resonate with voters. They may have done so - we need more research on this - but they may have also produced ads that were far less effective at mobilizing or persuading voters."
- Aparna Tiwari