Two persons riding two bikes in Amsterdam.
Photo: Sabina Fratila

Repeated electoral defeats have negative effects on political trust


Dutch voters whose party lost two consecutive elections have less trust in democracy’s actors compared to voters whose party lost once. Despite this, they are satisfied with democracy in general. This shows a study from the University of Gothenburg and Ghent University in Belgium.

The democratic system depends on voters accepting electoral results and recognizing the legitimacy of the political system, regardless of whether their party is the winner or the loser. Previous studies have shown that citizens who vote for a losing party report lower political trust and less satisfaction with democracy.

Previous research has also assumed that the negative effect of one electoral defeat is further exacerbated when voters are excluded from political power for a long time. But it is only now, through a number of tests around elections to the Dutch parliament, that the theory has been able to be fully tested. The purpose of the study was to find out what consequences it had for voters’ notions of legitimacy that their party lost twice in a row.

"The results show that trust in the institutions of democracy decreased by up to 7.1 percent among voters whose party lost two elections in a row when compared with those whose party lost once. On the other hand, there was no difference in how satisfied double losers were with democracy in general, which was an interesting and unexpected result that went against our hypothesis", says political scientist Ann-Kristin Kölln.

Together with Anna Kern, a political scientist at Ghent University in Belgium, she has analyzed three elections to the Dutch parliament Tweede Kamer between the years 2007–2012. The analyzes are based on a survey of 1,000 people who voted in all parliamentary elections during the period.

The Netherlands has a tradition of coalition governments around the political center. According to the constitution, legislative terms are four years, which means that voters whose party loses twice in a row are theoretically excluded from power for eight years. During the period of study, several snap elections occurred, however, shortening the legislative terms.

"The Dutch constitution, as the Swedish, ensures that opposition parties have great political influence, and this may be one of the reasons why voters in the study whose party lost still think that democracy as a whole works well."

However, there are countries in the world where the opposition has little or no influence on politics, and this can be problematic.

"When voters feel excluded and politically marginalized in a way that makes them question the impartiality of the election and they lose faith in the system, the entire electoral democracy is threatened", says Ann-Kristin Kölln.


Mer information

Studien har publicerats i European Journal of Political Research: The consequences of repeatedly losing on legitimacy beliefs (epdf).