Geographic Legislative Constituencies: A Defense

Published date01 April 2023
Date01 April 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Theory
2023, Vol. 51(2) 301 –330
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00905917221103298
Geographic Legislative
Constituencies: A
Marcus Carlsen Häggrot1
Many democracies use geographic constituencies to elect some or all of
their legislators. Furthermore, many people regard this as desirable in a
noncomparative sense, thinking that local constituencies are not necessarily
superior to other schemes but are nevertheless attractive when considered
on their own merits. Yet, this position of noncomparative constituency
localism is now under philosophical pressure as local constituencies have
recently attracted severe criticism. This article examines how damaging
this recent criticism is, and argues that within limits, noncomparative
constituency localism remains philosophically tenable despite the criticisms.
The article shows that noncomparative constituency localism is compelling
in the first place because geographic constituencies foster partisan
voter mobilisation, and practices of constituency service help to sustain
deliberation among constituents and within the legislature and promote
the realisation of equal opportunity for political influence. The article
further argues that it is unwarranted to criticise geographic constituencies
for being biased against geographically dispersed voter groups, for causing
vote-seat disproportionality, and for being vulnerable to gerrymandering.
The article also discusses the criticisms that local constituencies may pose
risks of inefficiency and injustice in resource allocation decisions, may lead
legislators to neglect the common good, and may limit citizens’ control over
1Research Centre ‘Normative Orders,’ Goethe University Frankfurt, Frankfurt am Main,
Corresponding Author:
Marcus Carlsen Häggrot, Research Centre ‘Normative Orders,’ Goethe University Frankfurt,
Max-Horkheimer-Str.2, Frankfurt am Main, 60629, Germany.
1103298PTXXXX10.1177/00905917221103298Political TheoryCarlsen Häggrot
302 Political Theory 51(2)
the political agenda. Whilst conceding that these objections may be valid,
the article argues that they do not outweigh the diverse and normatively
weighty considerations speaking in favour of noncomparative constituency
localism. Finally, the article’s analysis is defended against several variants of
the charge that it exaggerates the benefits of geographic constituencies.
democratic theory, electoral rules, constituency, voting, political representation,
To elect members of their legislative assembly, some democracies have
recourse to electoral constituencies1 that are defined in expressly geographic
terms. That is to say, some democracies divide their enfranchised citizenry
into a number of electoral subunits that are each charged with electing a
defined number of representatives for the legislature and are defined in geo-
graphic terms such that each unit is composed exclusively of voters who
reside within a particular, contiguous area of the national territory. This is,
for example, how the United Kingdom elects its members of Parliament
(MPs), how France elects the members of its Assemblée nationale, and how
Finland elects the members of its unicameral legislature. In each of these
cases, the selection rules are different, of course. The UK elects MPs using
a simple plurality rule, France uses two-round voting rules, and Finland uses
open-list proportional representation rules, its constituencies returning mul-
tiple representatives each. But the way the underlying constituencies are
defined is in each case the same: the definition is geographic.
1. The term “constituency” is polysemic. It can be used in an institutional sense to
designate groups of enfranchised citizens that are formally delimited and respon-
sible for electing a defined number of representatives to a particular representa-
tive body. In that sense, constituency is equivalent to the American term district,
the Canadian riding, the New Zealand electorate, the French circonscription, and
the German Wahlkreis. Constituency can further be used in a noninstitutional
sense to refer to those voters who actually vote for, or more generally support, a
particular candidate or party. And constituency can be used more loosely still to
designate the group whose interests a representative or party seeks to promote
and whose votes the representative or party courts (cf. Rehfeld, 2005, 35–36).
This article uses constituency exclusively in the first, institutional sense.

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