So Closed: Political Selection in Proportional Systems

European Journal of Political Economy - 40 (2015), 260-273

joint with Vincenzo Galasso

We analyze political selection in a closed list proportional system where parties have strong gate-keeping power, which they use as an instrument to pursue votes. Parties face a trade-off between selecting loyal candidates or experts, who are highly valued by the voters and thus increase the probability of winning the election. Voters can be rational or behavioral. The former care about the quality mix of the elected candidates in the winning party, and hence about the ordering on the party list. The latter only concentrate on the quality type of the candidates in the top positions of the party list. Our theoretical model shows that to persuade rational voters parties optimally allocate loyalists to safe seats and experts to uncertain positions. Persuading behavioral voters instead requires to position the experts visibly on top of the electoral list. Our empirical analysis, which uses data from the 2013 National election in Italy - held under closed list proportional representation - and from independent pre-electoral polls, is overall supportive of voters’ rational behavior. Loyalists (i.e., party officers or former members of Parliament who mostly voted along party lines) are overrepresented in safe positions, and, within both safe and uncertain positions, they are ranked higher in the list.