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Electoral infidelity: Why party members cast defecting votes

Journal article
Authors Jonathan Polk
Ann-Kristin Kölln
Published in European Journal of Political Research
Volume 57
Issue 2
Pages 539-560
ISSN 0304-4130
Publication year 2018
Published at Centre for European Research (CERGU)
Department of Political Science
Pages 539-560
Language en
Keywords Electoral behaviour, Europe, Party members
Subject categories Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)


© 2017 European Consortium for Political Research. Party politics and electoral research generally assume that party members are loyal voters. This article first assesses the empirical basis for this assumption before providing individual-level explanations for defection. It combines prominent theories from party politics and electoral behaviour research and argues that internal disagreement and external pressure can each bring about disloyal voting. The hypotheses are motivated with multi-country European survey data and tested on two sets of party-level national surveys. The results show, first, that, on average, 8 per cent of European party members cast a defecting vote in the last election, and second, that dissatisfaction with the leadership is the strongest predictor of defection. Additionally, internal ideological disagreement is associated with higher probabilities of defection, whereas the effects of pull factors in the form of contentious policies are rather limited. These findings emphasise the importance of testing scientific assumptions and the potential significance of party leadership contests.

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