Lago, I., Bermúdez, S., Guinjoan, M., Rowe, K., and Simón, P. (2017). Party Mobilization and Electoral Systems. In Government and Opposition. DOI: 10.1017/gov.2016.46.


A great amount of literature has focused on the question of how electoral system design affects party system size and strategic behavior of parties and voters. However, thus far, only few studies have examined how electoral systems shape parties’ campaigning strategies. The contribution by Lago et al. taps into this gap by analyzing how district magnitude and the number of districts shape the behavior of parties in the run-up to elections in Spain between 2009 and 2011. They measure parties’ campaigning efforts in national and European Parliament elections as the number of visits of leading candidates to provinces. With this data, they test how campaign strategies vary between a districted PR electoral system (national elections [1]) and a PR system with a single national district (EP elections [2]). The authors show that district magnitude shape incentives for campaigning, but this effect depends on party size. The number of districts shapes the two larger parties’ campaigning strategies – in multi-district systems, they visit more provinces, as they seek to win votes in many districts rather than risking to exceed electoral limits in few districts and thus aim to increase the payoff of votes to seats. In a system with only one district, they mainly target populous provinces, where they can win more votes at once. In contrast, the smaller party always targets districts with higher population size or districts with higher magnitude (irrespective of the number of electoral districts), as there they stand better chances of winning.

With their research, the authors take up the challenge to analyze how electoral rules affect campaign strategies of political parties. They go beyond existing literature that has mainly focused on the effect of district magnitude on the strategic entry of political parties. Due to cultural differences, a cross-national analysis of campaign strategies becomes difficult, yet when examining European and national elections differences in salience suggest themselves as a factor driving the findings. The authors acknowledge that the incentive for parties to mobilize might differ between first- and second-order elections and argue that they “are focused on how resources are distributed across districts…” (p. 9). As districts should be equally favorable or unfavorable in the same way in both elections, saliency should not affect how effort distribution varies across districts. However, their dependent variable is the number of visits made by a candidate to each district (p.10) rather than the proportion of visits in large or small districts. I wonder whether studying absolute numbers are able to capture differences in distributions. (e.g. the PSOE leading candidate made 26 visits to provinces in national elections but only 19 in EP elections). I am not entirely confident that the findings presented in the paper might derive from parties’ lower incentives or campaigning intensity in EU elections. Larger parties might be present in more districts because for national elections they might spent more time and resources than for elections to the European Parliament rather than because the electoral system gives other incentives.


[1] The 350 members of the Spanish Lower House are elected in 52 districts with magnitude ranging from 1 to 36.


[2] The 50 Spanish MEPs are elected in a single nationwide district.


Author: Sarah C. Dingler in September 2017