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Elections and Voters

First world elections: bottom-up or top down

Bottom-up theory is the more orthodox. It stresses the extent to which competive elections render goverments accountable to the governed. The last election determines who governs, the thought of the next election determines how they do so. Communication in the electoral emphasises from the bottom /the voters/ to the top /parties and goverments/. Competition between parties forces them to respond the views of the electors. The bottom-up view is that they do and so therefore does the electoral process which throws them in and out of office.

The top down view regards this as only a superficial analysis. Privatisation and deregulation were in fashion throughout the first world during 1980s. Overall, research findings offer more support for the bottom-up view. Competitive elections do make a difference to public policy. They can´t be dismissed as just sham.

Competitive elections are best seen as an exchange of influence between elites and voters. Elites gain authority in exchange for responsiveness to voters. The voters gain influence in exchange for obedience to decisions they only partly shaped. Elections benefit both rulers and ruled.

Elections in the second world

Elections under communist rule

Under communist rule, elections in the second world resembled the non-competitive contest still found in some developing countries. The functionss of elections in communist states were supposed to mobilise the population behind the party´s drive towards a communist society. The nomination process allowed the party to select candidates who had the qualities that the regime wished to emphasise – an outstanding work record or active involvement in the community. The campaign itself informed citizens about party achievements and priorities. People also had some oportunity to express grievances about how their local area was run.

Elections and the decary of communist rule

Elections in a few states did play a role in the slow decay of communist power which culminated in the convulsions of 1989. In Poland and to a lesser extent, the Soviet Union, voters used the opportunities provided by freer elections to express their hostility to communist rule.

Postcommunism: the founding elections

Just as 1987 had been the year of revolution in Eastern Europe, so 1990 was the year of elections. The first wave of postcommunist elections basically formed a sequence of founding elections. Not all the elections were fully competive but they did help to strengthen and confirm the postcommunist order. We can view these founding elections not as the end of the transition to democracy, but as only the beginning of a long a tortuous path. They did not give a full insight into the party systems which are likely to predominate into the 21. century. In several countries, the elections were clearly transitional: the broad umbrella movements, which had demolished the crumbling structures of communism, proved to be a dominant force.

Elections in the third world

Elections in the third world have taken the form of plebiscities held by dictators to ´confirm´ their own rule. Or they have been nationally competitive elections where one party has used bribery and coercion to maintain its power. Or they have taken the form of contests where competition was permitted but only between candidates standing on the same party ticket. Only recently, in the 1980s and early 1990s, have elections offering a genuine choice between parties and policies became more widespread.
Even in the growing number of third world countries that do hold competetive elections, the object of competition is usually specific rewards rather than ideology. Votes are exchanged for particular benefits which go to individuals, ethnic groups or communities. Whereas class-based parties in the first world used ideology to justify their promise of an improved standard of living for all their supporters, the exchange in third world countries is more practical and specific.

Electoral system

An electoral system is a set of rules for conducting an election. T is far more than the procedures for translating votes into seats. One of the most importan features of an electoral system is its scope. Which offices are subject to election is as fundamental as who has the right to vote.

The franchise /who can vote/ is another important element of an electoral system. In most democracies, the vote now extends to nearly all citizens aged at least eighteen. The main exclusions are criminals, the mantally incompetent and non-citizens rezidents such as guest workers. However, this ´universal´ franchise is relatively recent.
Converting votes into seats

Most controversy about electoral systems centres on the rules for converting votes into seats.

Majority systems

In a majority system, the candidate/s/ with the largest number of votes in a particular system.

•Simple plurality – ´first past the post´ system /UK, USA, Canada, India, New Zeland, South Africa/
Procedure: leading candidate elected on first and only ballot
•Absolute majority – alternative vote /´prefential vote´/ /Australia/
Procedure: voters rank candidates. Bottom candidate eliminated and these votes redistributed according to second preferences. Repeat until a candidate has a majority.
•Absolute majority – second ballot /France – presidential election/
Procedure: if no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, the two leading candidates face a run-off

Proportional systems

In proportional system, by contrast, parties acquire seats in explicit relation to the votes they receive. Proportional systems are based on the more recent notion of representation, majority goverments are unusual and coalitions are the norm.

•List system /Israel, Scandinavia/
Procedure: vote is cast for a party´s list of candidates, though in most countries the elector can also express support for individual candidates on the list.

•Single transferable vote /Irish Republic, Malta, Tasmania, Australia/
Procedure: voters rank candidates. Any candidate over the quota on first preferences is elected, with the ´surplus´ transferred to the voters second choice. When no candidate has reached the quota the bottom candidate is eliminated and these vote are also transferred. These procedures continue until all seats are filled.

The social base of parties

Elections in liberal democracies are not fought afresh each time. They show enormous continuity in the parties which contest them and in the shares of the vote these parties obtain. Most parties have coresupporters, located in one segment of society, which provide the party with a secure base of support. Most often, parties represent a particular religion, class or language group. These links between parties and social groups usually develop at crucial points in a country´s history.
Three main waves of change have swept through Western societes over the centuries. Even after they recede, they leave their tidemark on the party system. These waves are:

1. The national revolution – original construction of the state as a territory governed by a single central authority. Though fought many centuries ago, the scars of these battles can still be seen in modern party systems. One reason for this is that state-building was often a violent process. Centralisin elites generally showed little mercy in imposin their authority on groups accustomed to greater autonomy, notably in peripheral areas and in the Catholic Church. The other aspect of the national revolution, conflict between state and church, proved equally influential in shaping party systems. As the modern nation-state developed, it came into conflict with the Catholic Curch which sought to defend its traditional control over ´spiritual life´.

2. The industrial revolution – this also affected party systems in several ways. First, it sharpened existing divisions between urban and rural interests. Secondly, industrialisation led later to the emergence of socialist parties, externally created, to represent the interests of the urban working class. Intimately linked with class is the growth of trade unions. As the industrial wing of the working-class movement trade unions could be expected to increase electoral support for the left.

3. The post-industrial revolution – westerns societes are becoming post-industrial. Increasingly, they are characterised by affluence rather than poverty, by service industries rather than manufacturing industry and by education rather than class.
Affluence and education produce more confident, outward-looking people, concerned about broad social issues. This is the basis of Inglehart´s theory of postmaterialism. Postmaterialists look for a new style of policits: more participatory and single-issue based than the approarch offered by traditional parties, whether of the right or the left.
Parties of reaction

Social change produces tensions which can be reflected in the emergence of extreme often short-lived, parties of reaction. Reactionary parties fall into three main groups:

1.Fascist parties, reacting against democracy and the decay of the old order
2.Parties based on the self-employed and smaqll businesmen, reacting against large companies and powerful unions
3.Racist parties based on the poorly educated urban working class. Reacting against immigrants and guest workers

Parties in the New World

In analysing the social base of Western parties, it is important to distinguish Europe from the New World. Countries such as Canada, Australia and the United States lack European tradition of church-state and urban-rural conflict, consequently, they do not have major parties based exclusively on these clevages.

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