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Electoral Reform and Trade-Offs in Representation



We examine the effect of electoral institutions on two important features of representation that are often studied separately: policy responsiveness and the quality of legislators. Theoretically, we show that while a proportional electoral system is better than a majoritarian one at representing popular preferences in some contexts, this advantage can come at the price of undermining the selection of good politicians. To empirically assess the relevance of this trade-off, we analyze an unusually controlled electoral reform in Switzerland early in the twentieth century. To account for endogeneity, we exploit variation in the intensive margin of the reform, which introduced proportional representation, based on administrative constraints and data on voter preferences. A difference-in-difference analysis finds that higher reform intensity increases the policy congruence between legislators and the electorate and reduces legislative effort. Contemporary evidence from the European Parliament supports this conclusion.


Corresponding author

*Michael Becher, Assistant Professor in Political Science, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse and University Toulouse 1 Capitole,
Irene Menéndez González, Assistant Professor in International Politics and Development, University of Mannheim,


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For helpful comments on previous versions we are especially grateful to Lucy Barnes, Larry Bartels, José Cheibub, Ruth Dassonneville, Thomas Däubler, Dominik Duell, Albert Falcó-Gimeno, Mark Hallerberg, Carlo Horz, Mark Kayser, Carl Georg Maier, Bingham Powell, Nicolas Sauger, Christian Traxler, Thomas Zittel, Karine Van Der Straeten, four anonymous reviewers as well as conference/seminar participants at the annual meetings of MPSA (2017), APSA (2017), EPSA (2018), IAST/TSE, Democratic Anxieties Workshop (Berlin), Hertie School of Governance, IPERG-Barcelona, Sciences Po Paris and the University of Zürich. Víctor Quintas Martínez, Martina Buchinger and Ahmet Köken provided excellent research assistance. All mistakes, however, are our own. Financial support from the ANR-Labex IAST is gratefully acknowledged. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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Electoral Reform and Trade-Offs in Representation



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