Limits of Descriptive Representation

Having spent quite a bit on trying to understand political representation, I know how easy it is to forget the wider context. Here I want to highlight just two things.

First, even if the political representation of different groups is a good thing, we mustn’t forget that most political systems do not revolve around ethnic difference or gender, but about economic growth, the availability of jobs, or security and stability more widely.

Second, there’s a paper Robert Goodin that neatly outlines the limits of descriptive representation in representing diversity — whilst maintaining legislatures where deliberation and debate remains possible. While he may not account enough for multiple group membership and the fact that not every legislator needs to take part in every debate, Goodin’s argument is a good reminder to keep in mind the bigger picture: why do we care about political representation? After all, with opinion polls we have a good instrument capturing the preferences of the population…

Goodin, Robert E. 2004. “Representing Diversity.” British Journal of Political Science 34 (3): 453–468. doi:10.1017/S0007123404000134.

Data on Ethnic Group Representation

I regularly get asked whether I’d be willing to share my data on the political representation of ethnic groups in national legislatures. The answer always is yes, as I believe in sharing data. Apart from the appendices in my 2009 article and 2013 monograph, the data are available on my Dataverse. There you can find a spreadsheet with the numbers behind the representation scores. As this is an ongoing project of mine, I do from time to time update my database with better estimates, and also expand coverage. This also means that I’d appreciate possible corrections.

Party Positions on Ethnonationalism (EPAC)

Edina Szöcsik and Christina Zuber have conducted an expert survey on party positions on ethnonationalism (full data are available).

I wondered whether the positions captured in the EPAC were so different from what other expert surveys cover. This figure is a simple scatterplot matrix comparing dimensions in EPAC with two dimensions in CHES (Chapel Hill). EPAC I only include the dimensions that correlate highly, but what is striking is that such high correlations can be observed.

The dimensions are: ethnonationalism (“ethno” from EPAC), cultural autonomy (“cul” from EPAC), territorial autonomy (“ter” from EPAC), rights for ethnic minorities (from CHES), and political decentralization to regions/localities (from CHES).

I did a quick factor analysis, and it seems that these five dimensions are sufficiently summarized in a single factor (p=0.0129; compared to p=0.159 for two factors).

‘Why Aren’t They There?’ A Study of Political Representation

It’s been in the works for a long time, but I have the pleasure to announce the publication of my monograph.

9780955820397_cvr.inddWhy Aren’t They There? is a comprehensive study of political representation in a cross-national format. It examines the representation of women, ethnic groups, and policy positions in a cross-country comparison.

The book includes an analysis of the representation of women over time, and presents a critical view of the effectiveness of quotas. Using new data on ethnic groups in legislatures, the book is a significant step forward in the analysis of political representation. The representation of issue positions is examined in eight policy domains. The systematic approach of the book allows a ground-breaking examination of how different forms of representation – women, ethnic groups, issue positions – are interlinked.

It examines aspects that are unattainable in studies focusing on only a single form of representation. This results in a comprehensive understanding of political representation, and leads to important and policy-relevant insights for electoral engineering.

Link to ECPR Press | Table of Contents | Sample Chapter

Splitting Groups and the Gallagher Index

Measures of (dis-) proportionality are used for many things, including measuring representation (congruence). Many measures exist, and of these Gallagher’s index (1991, 1992) is so widely used and acclaimed that it is easy to forget that it is not perfect. Indeed, there does not appear to be such a thing as the perfect measure in this case (Taagepera and Grofman 2003).
One issue relevant to representation not picked up by Taagepera and Grofman’s paper is that of splitting groups that are not represented. Let’s look at a population with two groups, A and B. Let’s assume the legislature only consists of one group: A. Thus, (1 minus) Gallagher gives 0.8. For comparison the Rose index (i.e. 1 minus Loosemore-Hanby) also gives 0.8. A difference occurs, however, if I then differentiate between subgroups among the B: B1 and B2. The legislature (all A) is unchanged. The resulting value for (1 minus) Gallagher is 0.83, while the Rose index does not change.
By using the Gallagher index, the implication is that having two smaller groups absent in the legislature is somehow preferable to having a larger group absent. It also implies that if we differentiate absent groups conceptually, representation is affected, despite them simply not being represented.
We can also think of this in terms of parties. In the first case, only one of two parties is represented. The implication of using the Gallagher index is, though, that if the party absent from parliament splits into two smaller parties (for whatever reason) the representational situation is slightly improved.
I do not to mean to discourage the use of the Gallagher index, but to highlight the difficulty of measuring proportionality.

The code for doing this is my R-package polrep is as follows:
> pop1 <- c(0.8,0.2,0)
> leg <- c(1,0,0)
> pop2 <- c(0.8,0.1,0.1)
> Gallagher.1(pop1,leg)
[1] 0.8
> Rose(pop1,leg)
[1] 0.8
> Gallagher.1(pop2,leg)
[1] 0.8267949
> Rose(pop2,leg)
[1] 0.8

Gallagher, M. 1991. ‘Proportionality, disproportionality and electoral systems’. Electoral Studies 10(1): 33–51.
———. 1992. ‘Comparing Proportional Representation Electoral Systems: Quotas, Thresholds, Paradoxes and Majorities’. British Journal of Political Science 22(4): 469–96.
Mackie, T., and R. Rose, eds. 1991. The International Almanac of Electoral History. London: Macmillan.
Taagepera, R., and B. Grofman. 2003. ‘Mapping the indices of seats-votes disproportionality and inter-election volatility’. Party Politics 9(6): 659–77.