World Politics

Research Article

Electoral Control in New Democracies: The Perverse Incentives of Fluid Party Systems

Jakub Zielinski, Kazimierz M. Slomczynskia1 and Goldie Shabada2*

a1 The Ohio State University

a2 The Ohio State University


How do fluid party systems that exist in many new democracies affect democratic accountability? To address this question, the authors analyze a new database of all legislative incumbents and all competitive elections that took place in Poland since 1991. They find that when district-level economic outcomes are bad, voters in that country punish legislators from a governing party and reward legislators from an opposition party. As a result, electoral control in Poland works through political parties just as it does in mature democracies. However, the authors also find that, in contrast to mature democracies, legislators from a governing party tend to switch to an opposition party when the economy in their district deteriorates. When they do so, their chances of reelection are better than those of politicians who remained loyal to governing parties and are no worse than those of incumbents who ran as opposition party loyalists. These empirical results suggest that while elections in new democracies function as a mechanism of political control, fluid party systems undermine the extent to which elections promote democratic accountability.

Jakub Zlelinskl is a consultant with the Boston Consulting Group. He has published his work in World Politics.

Kazimierz M. Slomczynski is a professor of sociology and political science at The Ohio State University and is affiliated with the Polish Academy of Sciences. He is the coauthor (with Elizabeth Osborn) of Open for Business: The Persistent Entrepreneurial Class in Poland (2005). He specializes in cross-national research on social structure and mobility and on the social and political transformation of postcommunist societies.

Goldie Shabad is an associate professor of political science at The Ohio State University. She is the coauthor (with Richard Gunther and Giacomo Sani) of Spain after Franco: The Making of a Competitive Party System (1986). She is currently conducting comparative research on electoral accountability and fluid party systems in Central and Eastern Europe.

* Correspondence should be directed to Goldie Shabad, Department of Political Science, 2080 Derby Hall, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210 ( Earlier versions of this article were presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Philadelphia, August 28–31,2003, the meeting of the Council of European Studies, Chicago, March 11–14,2004, and various seminars. The data collection for this study was partially funded by The Mershon Center at The Ohio State University and the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology at the Polish Academy of Sciences, Warsaw. We thank the National Electoral Office in Poland for making the data available and Ewa Adamczyk for preparing usable data files. We also thank Pamela Paxton, Randy Hodson, Lisa Keister and the World Politics reviewers for their extensive and helpful comments.