8 - Conclusion: assessing the evidence  pp. 167-193

By Benjamin Reilly

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Let us briefly recall the core arguments for centripetal theories of electoral system design put forward in the first chapter. Drawing on theories of bargaining and cooperation, centripetalism advocates institutional designs which encourage opportunities for dialogue and negotiation between opposing political forces in the context of electoral competition. By privileging cooperative campaign strategies with increased prospects of electoral success, candidates representing competing (and sometimes violently opposed) interests are presented with incentives to negotiate for reciprocal support, creating an ‘arena of bargaining’ where vote-trading arrangements can be discussed. Under a preferential voting system, depending on the makeup of the electorate and the relative strengths of the parties, the result of an election may turn on the secondary preference votes received from supporters of rival parties. Parties that succeed in negotiating preference-trading agreements for reciprocal support with other parties will be rewarded, thus presenting them with an a priori motivation to moderate their policy positions on key ethnic issues so as to broaden their appeal. This gives them strong institutional incentives both to engage in face-to-face dialogue with their opponents, and to negotiate on broader policy issues than purely vote-seeking ones. The overall effect is thus to reorient electoral politics away from a rigid zero-sum game to a more fluid, complex and potentially positive-sum contest.