Parties, Electoral Systems, and Elections

Political parties perform many functions in democracies. First, they help bring different people and ideas together to establish how the majority will vote. Second, they provide labels for candidates that help citizens decide how to vote. Most democracies have multi-party systems; however communist systems have only one party. Electoral systems are the rules that decide how votes are cast, counted, and translated into seats in a legislature. All democracies divide their populations by electoral boundaries. Democracies also vary in the types of elections that they hold. A basic distinction between a presidential and parliamentary system is that the president is directly elected by the people and the prime minister is elected as a member of the legislature. The prime minister becomes head of government because he is the leader of his or her party or coalition.

Questions to consider:

  • What type of functions to political parties perform in authoritarian and democratic systems?
  • How do the core countries vary in terms of their electoral systems?
  • How do social cleavages affect votes?
Party Functions Shared by Democratic and Authoritarian Systems
Linkage Institutions Staff Government
Recruit Leaders Articulate Ideology
Mobilize Citizens Aggregate interests
Propose policy/formation/shape Political socialization
Electoral Systems
Plurality System Proportional Representation Mixed System
Individual candidates run in single-member districts.


Voting is arranged in multimember districts.


Voting is arranged in combination of multimember and single member districts
Voters cast votes for individual candidates.


Voters cast votes for parties. Voters cast votes for individuals and parties.
Candidate with more votes than other candidates wins the seat.


Seats are divided among parties on the basis of percentage of overall vote.   Some seats are filled by winners in plurality races; others are filled by party.
One result is a two (or few) party system. Proportional representation generally results in a multi-party system. A mixed system results in an in-between number of parties.


Interest Groups

people Image from Interest groups are organizations of like-minded people whose goal is to influence and shape public policy.   These groups of people may be based on almost any type of common interest, such as occupation, labor, business interest, agriculture, or community action.   Most interest groups have a political side which focuses on influencing the decisions those governments make. By determining the degree of autonomy these groups have from the government, we are able see how much influence interest groups have on government policy making.   Countries with authoritarian systems of government are rarely independent of the government, whereas most western industrialized democracies are very much so independent often raising their own funds and selecting their own leaders.   Those interest groups have a greater chance of pressuring the government to make policies that favor their interests.

Questions to consider:

  • How do interest groups influence government policy?
  • How are interest groups different in authoritarian countries?
  • How do governments in the six core countries respond to interest groups?