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The electoral sweet spot: low-magnitude proportional electoral systems

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Can electoral rules be designed to achieve political ideals such as accurate representation of voter preferences, accountable governments, and strong economic performance? The academic literature commonly divides electoral systems into two types, majoritarian and proportional, and asserts that the choice between these implies a straightforward trade-off by which having more of an ideal that a majoritarian system provides implies less of something that PR delivers in equal measure. We posit that these trade-offs are better characterized as non-linear and that one can gain most of the advantages attributed to PR, while sacrificing less of those attributed to majoritarian elections, by maintaining district magnitudes in the low to moderate range. We test this intuition against data from 610 election outcomes in 81 countries between 1945 and 2006. Electoral systems that use low-magnitude multi-member districts produce disproportionality indices almost on par with those of pure PR systems while limiting party system fragmentation, producing simpler government coalitions, and surpassing both majoritarian and pure PR systems on some indicators of government performance.

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