The National Effects of Subnational Representation: Access to Regional Parliaments and National Electoral Performance Quarterly Journal of Political Science 12(1): 1-35

Elias Dinas and Florian Foos

According to scholarly wisdom, party competition at the subnational level plays a negligible role in national elections. We provide theory and evidence that qualifies this view. Subnational elections determine entrance into subnational parliaments, which provides essential organizational resources: members and money. Since in most cases the same political actors compete at all levels of government, they can make use of these resources to improve their status in national party competition. We test our argument exploiting two institutional features of the German multi-level electoral context: the discontinuities generated by the five percent electoral threshold in German state elections, and the occurrence of German state elections at different times in the federal election cycle. We find that parties that marginally cross the threshold for state parliamentary representation gain more members, and eventually perform better in national elections, but only if the party has sufficient time to organize between the state and the federal election. Consistent with our organizational explanation, bottom-up effects are more pronounced where state parliamentary parties receive more financial resources. Alternative mechanisms are tested, and receive no empirical support.

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Federalization and Party System Fragmentation: On the Unintended Consequences of Increasing Decentralization (Draft, January 2018)

Florian Foos and Daniel Bischof

Political decentralization is an often neglected predictor of party system fragmentation. While comparative research has mainly concentrated on the role of electoral systems and the socio-demographic diversity of a state's citizenry when explaining the number of political parties in a polity, scholars have highlighted that these two factors are not sufficient to explain changes in the number of political parties over time. We argue that devolving institutions and regional authority in important policy areas to the regions should lead to a more equal distribution of resources and political power between political parties in a party system. While governments respond to regional demands by decentralizing institutions and policy-making authority, these reforms should benefit non-dominant parties because their electorate is often regionally concentrated, and because they have difficulty accessing political resources at the national level. We test our theoretical argument based on a time-series-cross-sectional design using the Regional Authority Index to predict the effective number of political parties in 19 countries over 65 years. In line with our theoretical expectations, we find that increasing levels of political decentralization, and specifically the extent to which legislatures, executives, and policy authority are decentralized, predict party system fragmentation within states over time. Increasing party system fragmentation is hence predicted by previous decentralization reforms, with important unexpected consequences for government formation, party system congruence, and political stability.