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Raising the Stakes - The impact of institutional decentralization on voting behaviour in regional elections

Marian Bohl
University of Zurich
Marian Bohl
University of Zurich
Open Panel

Abstract

How do voters decide in regional elections? Rationalist advocates of electoral balancing expect citizens to rather cast their regional ballot for parties which are not in national government to influence or counter its power. Also they expect voters to turn out less in regional “second-order” elections, where generally less is at stake. But the dichotomous first- and second-order classification is too crude to account for inter-country and inter-regional variance in turnout rates and electoral punishment effects. I argue that variance in regional authority – caused by institutional arrangements, regional prerogatives and influence on national politics – can explain part of inter-regional variance in turnout as well as governmental loss. Varying importance of regional elections, even within one single country, should cause different motivations for rational voters. Some regional prerogatives and self-ruling authority are so elaborate, that they constitute an additional first order arena. Some regional legislatures and governments also can influence national decision making, which attributes further importance to elections determining their political composition. I suggest variance in the “self-rule” and “shared-rule” dimensions of the “Regional Authority Index” as a measure of regional elections’ importance. I will test several hypotheses derived from institutionally qualified classical approaches to explaining regional election results. Regression analysis of a new aggregate dataset from 643 regional elections in six countries during 40 years shows a mixed picture of aggregate regional authority’s influence on turnout rates in a comparative framework, but the partisan choices of regional voters are influenced systematically by institutional features of self-rule.