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Political Research Exchange - PRX

How do Voters want to be Represented? An Investigation into how Parties can Strengthen Democracy

Comparative Politics
Political Parties
Public Opinion
Survey Experiments
Annika Werner
Australian National University
Annika Werner
Australian National University
Reinhard Heinisch
Universität Salzburg

The diagnosis that large parts of democratic publics are disenchanted with political parties is wide spread. Also, that this is a problem for democracy is undeniable, given the crucial role parties play in the representative system. However, what parties can do about this is still much less clear. How should parties make representative democracy work to give it more legitimacy? Dominant democracy models assume that voters want parties to fulfil the promises of their election campaigns and that this is especially true for the party a voter supports. The congruence between voters’ policy preferences, party programs, and party behavior is argued to ensure policy responsiveness and the meaningfulness of elections. Whether voters agree with these assumptions, however, remains largely unclear. Thus, we actually have little robust knowledge about the yardstick against which political elites are judged. This article is one of the first empirical studies to investigate voter preferences regarding party behavior. It pits three ideal-type party representative styles against each other: promise-keeping, focus on public opinion, and seeking the common good. Furthermore, it tests whether voters prefer their party – over other parties – to keep their promises. Using innovative conjoint survey experiments in a most-different design – comparing Austria and Australia – this study finds that, generally, voters care least about parties keeping their promises and their preferences are unaffected by their party support. These results challenge common theoretical assumptions about the party behavior that might make democracy seem legitimate in the eyes of the people.
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