Literature Review: Local candidates and closed-list systems

Foto Credit: S.H.Darlin 2010

Espírito-Santo, A., and Sanches, E.R. (2018) ‘Looking for locals under a closed-list proportional representation system: The case of Portugal’, Electoral Studies 52 (2018) 117–127.

Electoral system characteristics affect parties’ motivation to include locals to their party lists. Under closed-list proportional representation systems, the party profile is key for attracting voters’ support rather than personal vote-earning characteristics of candidates. However, despite a low utility for parties to include locals, there are certainly some candidates with local ties even in closed-list proportional systems. Based on this puzzle, the article by Espírito-Santo and Sanches asks which list positions are granted to locals (in the rare case they are selected), and which district level factors (i.e. magnitude) moderate the probability of finding locals on lists. To answer these questions, the authors draw on a unique data set with comprehensive biographical data on candidates for the Portuguese National Parliament between 1983 and 2009.

The authors measure localness based on whether the candidate i) was born in the district where she/he runs; ii) has electoral experience at the local level in the respective district, or iii) lives in the district. The analyses demonstrate that even though Portugal has a unexpectedly high percentage of local candidates on the lists, they are less often among those in higher positions and among heads of lists. The only exception to this pattern constitute resident candidates, who tend to be more likely to hold promising list positions. I would explain this finding with a general tendency of prominent politicians to settle in uncontested districts irrespective of the district they were born in, a behavioral pattern we also observe in Germany. With regard to the district-level factors that might influence this relationship, Espírito-Santo and Sanches expected the importance of localness to decrease for larger districts. High district magnitude often coincides with more urban areas, which are usually more impersonal not only because of the size but also because their inhabitants tend to have lighter relationships with these districts. However, in the Portugese election under scrutiny residency behaves conversely, i.e. the probability of finding residents increases as the district magnitude grows while local political involvement seems irrelevant. I wonder whether the latter finding also holds when local experience is measured in years rather than the current dichotomous operationalization of the variable. For party officials, the value added of office holding in local governments and parliaments might surge with the years of political involvement.

By Sarah C. Dingler in May 2018



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