Normative Balance and Electoral Reform: A Finnish Puzzle and a Comparative Analysis

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The Finnish electoral system has recently been changed to slightly increase proportionality, but nothing has been done to make cabinet alternatives more ‘identifiable’ before the election. This outcome poses a major puzzle for one important theoretical approach to electoral system change. This approach sees normatively ‘unbalanced’ systems as vulnerable to reform and would have expected a significant increase in the pre-electoral identifiability of competing cabinet options. The article explains the Finnish case by embedding it in a comparative model of normative tradeoffs in democratic design. Based on Finnish case evidence and a statistical analysis of 100 elections in 32 democracies (from 2001 to 2011), the article argues that the type of democracy exemplified by Finland is not normatively unbalanced. In particular, the lack of pre-electoral identifiability is compensated for by an unconstrained multidimensionality of partisan preferences. While it may be true that normatively balanced designs are more stable, there is more than one way to be balanced.
Original languageEnglish
JournalWest European Politics
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)53-72
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 25.01.2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 3rd Annual Conference of the
European Political Science Association Conference in Barcelona in June 2013. We
thank the participants in the panel on Regime Authority, and especially our discussant Adrienne LeBas, for helpful comments. The research for this paper was supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), grant number GA 1696/2-1.