Low and decreasing turnout, so what? Turnout in EP elections is lower, but so is turnout in all second order elections The decrease in turnout not characteristic of EP elections Not indicative of a lack of legitimacy of the EU level of governance, nor of an outgrow of EU scepticism in general Higher turnout would not change the election results Institutional solution: holding elections on weekends and having multiple constituencies in all countries could increase turnout significantly 5
What about 2014? Greater mobilization – list leading candidates of the major EP parties are adding “European” faces and voices to the campaign. More political conflict about EU policies both within and between member countries. Greater distinctiveness between national and European electoral alternatives/parties. An immediately visible consequence of the election result: the list leader of the winning EP party (or party coalition) will be the parliament’s candidate for EC presidency. 6
The benchmark for how well parties perform in EP elections are the results of THE PREVIOUS national election Less strategic voting, protest voting, lower campaign intensity=> small parties gain votes Tendency to punish incumbents (but this is dependent on the time of elections and economic performance) Limited impact of EU issues Differences in behavior and their consequences 7
Expectations for 2014 Increase importance of EU related issues (i.e. increase contestation of the scope and role of the EU) Increase support for anti-EU parties Bigger gains for small parties (increase protest vote) Higher losses for incumbents 13
Conclusions EP elections are characterized: by lower turnout, better performance of small parties and a tendency to punish the incumbent They were mostly about national issues But this will likely change in 2014 as debates over the scope and role of the EU became more salient Higher turnout in EP elections Increase importance of EU related issues for vote choice 14
Euro-Scepticism as a reason? Euro-scepticism is often understood to be a driving force of abstentions in EP elections, both in journa- listic and academic work (e.g. Blondel et al. 1998). This however is not normally the case. When controlling for the standard determinants of electoral participation –in any election– we find nothing left for being explained by Euro-scepticism (Schmitt & van der Eijk 2008). Standard determinants include resources, socio- political integration and mobilisation, habituation, and political involvement.
The meaning of a low turnout in EP elections A low turnout is therefore NOT indicative of a crisis of legitimacy of the European Parliament and the EU system of governance more generally. In addition, it can be shown that the composition of the EP would hardly be different if the level of participation would be higher. The relative strength of EP party groups would remain much the same (van der Eijk, Schmitt & Sapir, Bernhagen & Rose). However, this is not to say that low turnout is good. It weakens the electoral connection between citizens and their representatives, and may event- ually have repercussions also for national politics.