Study title
Parliamentary Decisions: Electoral considerations, party pressure and strategic calculations
Ref study 9309
Study language English
Contributing institutions
  • Legislative behaviour
  • Party discipline
Geographical space
  • Switzerland
Despite the central role of the Swiss parliament and its members in political decision-making, we know only little about what determines the latter's decisions when voting on bills. Drawing on both theoretical and empirical work carried out in other contexts, mostly in the United States, our study wishes to answer two main questions:
- what is the respective role of personal political preferences, party pressure, and constituency preferences in explaining the voting decisions of members of parliaments (MPs) in the Swiss Lower House?
- and to what degree do MPs in the Swiss lower house engage in strategic voting when considering bills with various options in complex voting agendas?
The starting point of the research project is the large theoretical and empirical literature on MPs' voting behaviour in the United States. The personal political preferences, the influcence of party discipline, and the effect of constituency have been studied as the main factors explaining vote choices by MPs. Our project aims to assess for the first time the influence of the above factors on the voting behaviour of Swiss MPs by testing several hypotheses drawn from the literature: First, we expect that the effect of constituency preferences on MPs' voting decisions is larger for those elected under plurality rule and those who benefited more strongly from preferential votes to get elected. Second, we expect that an MPs voting behaviour is affected by the way in which she or he was selected by a party to get on the party list. Third, we assume that the effect of MPs' constituency preferences vary, depending on the type of vote in parliament. Some authors have suggested that votes in parliament also serve for position taking. We assume thus that the influence of constituency preferences is larger in published voting records than in non published votes. In addition to these hypotheses, we are also interessted in a particular type of behaviour of MPs: We wish to assess how their voting behaviour is affected by complex agenda-structures and to which degree they engage in strategic voting behaviour. We assume that MPs with a longer tenure and those which have dealt with a bill in a committee are more likely to engage in strategic voting in parliament. The ongoing project contributes in a significant way to our knowledge of how MPs decide in Swiss parliament. It yields important insights on the functioning of the particular swiss democracy and its parliament that is still defined as a "militia" parliament.
Methods (description)
We rely on a series of data sources. To assess the voting behaviour of MPs, we rely on a dataset of all votes having occured in the Swiss lower house (made available by the Schweizerische Parlamentsdienste, Bundeshaus, Bern). This dataset allows us to assess quite precisely the role that party pressure and electoral concerns play in the MPs' voting behaviour. Second, we conducted an (internet-based) survey to collect information on the MPs' political preferences, their attitudes towards party discipline, the way they deal with complex agenda-structures, their risk attitudes and their own ideal of political representation. Third, we used various existing data sources to yield information on the (average) preferences in the electoral districts and on MPs and their parties. These included: expert surveys on the political positions of the Swiss parties, other MPs' surveys such as smartovte, statistical information on Swiss constituencies (the cantons), official statistical information about the individual electoral results of the MPs. We combined these various data sources to a huge data pool which we use for an innovative investigation of the behaviour of Swiss MPs.
Erhebungsverfahren: Online-Survey
Erhebungseinheiten: All member of the federal assembly (Upper House: 46, Lower House: 200)
Auswahlverfahren: census
Anzahl Untersuchungseinheiten: planned: 246, realised: 160 (65%)
Untersuchungsdesign: surveys realised during winter session 2006 and summer session 2007
Durchführung der Feldarbeit: project assistant
Methods (instruments)
Replicated study No
  • Hug, Simon. 2010. Strategic voting in a bicameral setting. In: Thomas König, George Tsebelis und Marc Debus (hrsg): Reform Processes and Policy Change: Veto Players and Decision-Making in Modern Democracies, pp 231-246. Berlin Springer.
  • Bütikofer, Sarah; Hug, Simon. 2010. The Swiss Upper House: “Chambre de réflexion” or Conservative Renegades?. In: The Journal of Legislative Studies, Volume 16, Issue 2 June 2010 , pp 176-194. Online: 10.1080/13572331003740099
  • Hug, Simon. 2010. Selection Effects in Roll Call Votes. In: British Journal of Political Science, Volume 40, 1, pp 225-235. Online: 10.1017/S0007123409990160
  • Hug, Simon; Sciarini, Pascal. 2009. Parties and their success in the Swiss parliament. In: Fritz Sager, Frédéric Varone und Adrian Vatter (hrsg). Demokratie als Leidenschaft. Planung, Entscheidung und Vollzug in der schweizerischen Demokratie (Festschrift für Prof. Dr. Wolf Linder zum 65. Geburtstag), Bern: Haupt, 117-138.
  • Carrubba, Clifford J.; Gabel, Matthew; Hug, Simon. 2008. Legislative Voting Behavior, Seen and Unseen: Adjusting for Selection Effects in Roll Call Vote Analysis. In: Legislative Studies Quarterly 33: 543-572. Online:
  • Bütikofer, Sarah. 2008. How independent are Swiss Parliamentarians?. In: CIS-Newsletter, No. 14, 3-5. Online:
  • Bailer, Stefanie; Bütikofer, Sarah; Hug, Simon; Schulz, Tobias. 2007. Preferences, party discipline and constituency pressure in Swiss parliamentary decisions. Paper presented at the ECPR General Conference Pisa, Italy, September 6-8, 2007 and at the Annual Meeting of the Swiss Political Science Association, Balsthal, November 22/23, 2007.
Unpublished documents
  • Schulz, Tobias. 2009. Der kantonale Einfluss auf die Kompetenzverteilung in der Raumplanung. Eine Analyse von Abstimmungen im Nationalrat. Konferenzbeitrag am Kongress der Schweizerischen Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft, St. Gallen, 8./9. Januar 2009.
  • Bütikofer, Sarah; Hug, Simon. 2009. Strategic Behaviour in the Swiss Parliament. Konferenzbeitrag am Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 2.- 5. April 2009.
  • Hug, Simon; Martin, Danielle. 2009. How electoral systems affect MPs’ positions. Konferenzbeitrag am Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, 3.-6.September 2009.
  • Bailer, Sarah. 2009. Legislative Norms and Party Group Discipline in the Swiss Parliament. Vorgestellt an der ECPR General Conference, Potsdam, 10.-12. September 2009, dem Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Toronto, 3.-6.September 2009 und an der Tagung der Sektion “Vergleichende Politikwissenschaft” der Deutschen Vereinigung für Politikwissenschaft, 22. – 24. Januar 2009.
  • Carrubba, Clifford J.; Gabel, Matthew; Hug, Simon. 2009. Voting at the surface. Roll call votes in the European Parliament. Konferenzbeitrag an der 2nd Conference on the Political Economy of International Organizations, Genf, 29.-31. Januar 2009, der Tagung “Le parlement européen: un parlement comme les autres?” des IEE-ULB, Brüssel, 29. April 2009, und dem Workshop “Public opinion, institutions and representation in the European 4 Union, des “Forum on contemporary Europe”, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University, 6./7. April 2009.
  • Hug, Simon. 2009. Strategic Voting in a Bicameral Setting. Konferenzbeitrag am Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 2.-5. April 2009 und an der “Reform processes and policy change: How do veto players determine decision-making in modern democracies”-Konferenz , Universität Mannheim, 14. - 16. Mai 2009.
  • Carrubba, Clifford J.; Gabel, Matthew; Hug, Simon. 2008. Legislative Voting Behavior, Seen and Unseen: Adjusting for Selection Effects in Roll Call Vote Analysis. Konferenzbeitrag am Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 3.-6. April, 2008.
Financed by
Ethical approval No
Study type
Data availability
Source (Updates) Web
Date created 08.05.2015
Date modified 08.05.2015
Start - End date 01.05.2006 - 28.03.2009