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Module Code: POU44292

Module Name: Electoral Accountability in Parliamentary Systems 2020-21

  • ECTS Weighting: 5
  • Semester/Term Taught: Semester 2
  • Contact Hours: One 90-minute seminar per week
  • Module Personnel: Dr Jan Berz
  • Office Hours: TBA

Module Learning Aims

In this module students will learn about the concept of electoral accountability in representative democracies, in particular in parliamentary systems, and theories of voting behaviour linked to electoral accountability. Students will gain a thorough understanding of contemporary theoretical and empirical debates regarding electoral accountability, and be able to discuss and evaluate the underlying arguments and empirical evidence.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this module students should be able to:

  • discuss the vital role of electoral accountability in democratic theory and theories of voting behaviour related to accountability
  • examine the connection between clarity of responsibility and heuristic short-cuts in voters' decision-making
  • explore the relevance of voter characteristics for perceptions of government performance
  • assess contemporaneous academic research on blind retrospection and the limits of electoral accountability
  • understand political research using natural experiments as causal identification strategy.

Module Content

The aim of this module is to provide a profound understanding of the theoretical justification and vital role of electoral accountability in representative democracies, and of current controversies and debates surrounding the workability of electoral accountability in the discipline. For this purpose we will also discuss theories of retrospective voting behaviour linked to electoral accountability (e.g. economic voting). We will examine, in particular, the workability of electoral accountability in parliamentary systems in which responsibility for government outcomes is often blurred due to joint decision-making in coalition cabinets and which cognitive short-cuts voters employ to reach decisions under these complex circumstances. In addition, we will examine the moderating influence of other contextual factors like electoral systems, affective polarization and party competition on retrospective voting behaviour and electoral accountability.

Apart form these issues, we will discuss contemporary problems of electoral accountability and whether voters punish incumbents for disasters like floods, shark attacks and terrorist incidents. In this discussion we will also turn towards individual-level characteristics of voters – like their party identification – that affect electoral accountability and voters' perception of government performance. Lastly, we examine whether democratically elected governments affect the factual performance outcomes (e.g. economic growth, crime rates) that inform voters' choices.

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Recommended Reading List

Detailed readings will be given in the module handout. Key readings are:

  • Achen, Christopher H and Larry M Bartels. 2017. Democracy for realists: Why elections do not produce responsive government. Vol. 4 Princeton: Princeton University Press
  • Lewis-Beck, M., & Stegmaier, M. 2019. Economic Voting. In: Congleton, R., Grofman, B., Voigt, S., Lewis-Beck, M., & Stegmaier, M. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Public Choice, Volume 1.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Przeworski, A., Stokes, S. C. S., Stokes, S. C., and Manin, B. (Eds.). 1999. Democracy, accountability, and representation (Vol. 2). Cambridge University Press
  • Strøm, K., Müller, W. and Bergman, T. (eds). 2003. Delegation and Accountability in Parliamentary Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Assessment Details

Response papers - weighted 5%

Essay 1 - weighted 35%

Essay 2 - weighted 60%

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