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Electoral losers revisited - How citizens react to defeat at the ballot box

Journal article
Authors Peter Esaiasson
Volume 30
Issue 1
Pages 102-113
ISSN 0261-3794
Publication year 2011
Published at Department of Political Science
Pages 102-113
Language en
Keywords winner-loser gap, system support, electoral democracy, electoral legitimacy
Subject categories Political Science


The paper seeks to reconcile insights from winner–loser gap research with mainstream understanding of election legitimacy. The paper acknowledges that winning and losing elections creates differential incentives for citizens to remain supportive of their political system, but it argues that losers nevertheless have enough reasons to remain supportive in absolute terms. Drawing on democratic theory, the paper develops a rationale for why citizens are willing to accept electoral defeat voluntarily, and suggest a new way to conceptualize citizen reactions to election outcomes. It presents findings from a sample of election studies in established democracies to show that winners typically become more supportive whereas losers at minimum retain their level of support from before the election. It concludes that elections, when reasonably well executed, as they most often are in established democracies, build system support rather than undermine it.

Page Manager: Webmaster|Last update: 9/11/2012

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