Voting behavior in multi-level electoral systems

Authored by: Hermann Schmitt , Eftichia Teperoglou

The Routledge Handbook of Elections, Voting Behaviorand Public Opinion

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138890404
eBook ISBN: 9781315712390
Adobe ISBN:


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Across many countries a central element of political competition is arising from the multilevel dynamics of electoral politics. The evolution of this sub-field of electoral research has been especially relevant in electoral studies of federal states (e.g., Belgium, Canada, Germany, the US or Spain). Moreover, it is also related to a shift of authority from the national to the subnational or supranational level. This increased relocation of authority to govern is generally challenging the role of the democratic nation-state (Hooghe et al. 2010). This is all the more the case in the European Union (EU), which has become one of the most characteristic examples of multi-level politics, with supranational, national and subnational levels of jurisdiction cooperating and to some degree competing with one another. Under these circumstances, one research question for this chapter is about the relationship (or “interdependency”) between elections at these different levels of government. Another question is whether “electoral actors” exhibit different motivations and behaviors depending on the level of jurisdiction at which an election is held (van der Eijk and Schmitt 2008). In order to explore these questions, many scholars have put forward two groups of contextual variables – one being the character and importance of the electoral contest, and the other being the political climate in the “main” political arena at the time of the election under study. The first group of contextual variables includes the perceived political importance (or salience) of the office(s) to be filled. National parliamentary elections or those for a president with executive powers are contests of “high salience” (or “high stimulus” elections), while all other types of elections are of “low salience” (or “low stimulus” elections) (see Campbell 1960 for this distinction). The political climate includes various short-term aspects related to the timing of the “low stimulus” election within the electoral cycle of the main political arena (such as the popularity of the government (see, for example, Stimson 1976); or the state of the economy (see, for example, Tufte 1975).

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