Proportional Representation and the Partisan Trust Gap

Like Berg, Carlin and Love identify trust as a key element in people’s ability to cooperate. Their studies reveal that democratic partisanship is the stereotype that affects perceptions of trustworthiness the most in democratic states. Through their critical examination of the effects of institutionalized political competition (elections) on interpersonal trust, Carlin and Love highlight the negative effects of democratic partisanship. Last fall BC held a referendum on the electoral system. Voters were asked if the province should continue to use a first past the post system, or if they should start using a system of proportional representation. A first past the post electoral system essentially looks like a “winner take all” tournament. The person who wins get all the power. A proportional representation system, however, allocates power according to the proportion of the population that supported each candidate. Based on Carlin and Loves findings that polarization of political parties increases the partisan trust gap, I question how a proportional representation, electoral system, could reduce the partisan trust gap.

Carlin and Love found a positive relationship between party polarization and the partisan trust gap in all eight of the countries they studied. As they point out this helps politicians win because the more they differentiate themselves and their goals from their opposition the more identifiable they are. I believe that in the case of proportional representation the polarization of political parties would be lessened. Not only would politicians be seen cooperating together, but politicians in their campaigns would be forced to find common ground with each other, perhaps even forming alliances.

As indicated points out, Teppers argues, in “American corporations are winning their war on capitalism”, that when big businesses buy up little business just to take out the competition they stifle diversity, innovation and competition. I see a parallel between this type of business model and a first past the post electoral system. In both situations we see disproportionate power given to a limited number of people. Similarly to the business world, a first past the post system reduces the politicians need to cooperate or compete with each other during and after elections. Therefore, I believe proportional representation would force politicians to cooperate/compete more closely with each other creating more innovation and diversity. I believe that this would reduce the partisan trust gap because the political competition would be more nuanced and less artificially polarized.

I wonder what the effects of a proportional representation electoral system would be on the partisan trust gap. I would be very interested to see a cross comparison of data collected via the ‘trust’ game in a first past the post democracy and a proportional representation democracy.

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