Skip to main content

Voters and Abstainers in National and European Elections

  • Daniel Stockemer (a1) and Andre Blais (a2)

Through a panel analysis conducted in Bavaria, which covers two adjacent elections – the federal elections and the European elections in 2013 and 2014 – we examine the attitudinal factors that drive citizens’ propensity to turn out. We find that abstainers have generally low levels of knowledge, interest and sense of civic duty. National-level voters have relatively high interest, knowledge and sense of duty in national politics, but not in European affairs. In contrast, European- and national-level voters have high interest, knowledge and a sense of duty for both national and European politics. This finding contextualizes the characterization of European elections as second-order national elections. While prior research has established that voters make their vote choice based on national-level politics, we demonstrate that European elections are not national elections when it comes to citizens’ decision to vote. Rather, knowledge, interest and a sense of duty about national politics are not sufficient conditions for somebody to vote in the European elections. The person needs to have the same positive attitudes about European affairs as they have about national politics to participate in European elections.

Hide All
1. Schumpeter, J.A. (1976) Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (London: Allen & Unwin).
2. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. and Brady, H. (1995) Voice and Equality (Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press).
3. Buehlmann, M., Merkel, W., Mueller, L. and Wessels, B. (2012) The democracy barometer: A new instrument to measure the quality of democracy and its potential for comparative research. European Political Science, 11(4), pp. 519536.
4. Wattenberg, M.W. (2002) Where Have All the Voters Gone? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
5. Cutts, D., Fieldhouse, E. and John, R. (2009) Is voting habit forming? The longitudinal impact of a GOTV campaign in the UK. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, 19(3), pp. 251263; K. Smets and C. Ham (2013) The embarrassment of riches? A meta-analysis of individual-level research on voter turnout. Electoral Studies, 32(2), pp. 344–359.
6. There is a fourth group of individuals; individuals, who vote in European Elections, but not in national elections. However, we note that this group of individuals is very small, which makes us focus the analysis on only three groups.
7. Reif, K. and Schmitt, H. (1980) Nine second-order national elections – a conceptual frame-work for the analysis of European election results. European Journal of Political Research, 8(1), pp. 344.
8. Van der Eijk, C. and van Egmond, M. (2007) Political effects of low turnout in national and European elections. Electoral Studies, 26(3), pp. 561573.
9. Hobolt, S.B., Spoon, J.J. and Tilley, J. (2008) A vote against Europe? Explaining defection at the 1999 and 2004 European Parliament elections. British Journal of Political Science, 39(1), pp. 93115.
10. Follesdal, A. and Hix, S. (2006) Why there is a democratic deficit in the EU: A response to Majone and Moravcsik. Journal of Common Market Studies, 44(3), p. 536.
11. Giebler, H. and Wagner, A. (2015) Contrasting first- and second-order electoral behaviour: Determinants of individual party choice in European and German federal elections. German Politics, 24(1), pp. 4666.
12. Adshead, M. and Hill, J. (2005) Elections to the European Parliament June 2004 – The 15 established member states. Electoral Studies, 24(3), pp. 537–545; A.H. Trechsel (2010) How much second order were the European Parliament Elections. In: W. Gagatek (Ed.), The 2009 Elections to the European Parliament: Country Report (San Domenico di Fiesole: European University Press), pp. 3–11.
13. Harder, J. and Krosnick, J.A. (2008) Why do People Vote? A psychological analysis of voter turnout. Journal of Social Issues, 64(3), pp. 525549.
14. Johann, D. (2012) Specific political knowledge and citizens’ participation: Evidence from Germany. Acta Politica, 47(1), pp. 4266; J. Moeller, C. de Vreese, F. Esser and R. Kunz (2014) Pathway to political participation: The influence of online and offline news media on internal efficacy and turnout of first-time voters. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(5), pp. 689–700.
15. Stewart, K., MacIver, P. and Young, S. (2008) Testing and improving voter’s political knowledge. Canadian Public Policy, 34(4), pp. 403417.
16. Luskin, R.C. (1990) Explaining political sophistication. Political Behavior, 12(2), p. 333.
17. Echegaray, F. (2015) Voting at the marketplace: Political consumerism in Latin America. Latin American Research Review, 50(2), pp. 176199.
18. Bowler, S. and Donovan, T. (2013).Civic duty and turnout in the UK referendum on AV: What shapes the duty to vote? Electoral Studies, 32(2), pp. 265273.
19. Galais, C. and Blais, A. (2016) Beyond rationalization: Voting out of duty or expressing duty after voting. International Political Science Review, 37(2), pp. 213229.
20. Birch, S. (2010) Perceptions of electoral fairness and voter turnout. Comparative Political Studies, 43(12), pp. 16011622.
21. Ecker, A., Glinitzer, K. and Meyer, T.M. (2015) Corruption performance voting and the electoral context. European Political Science Review, 8(3), pp. 333354.
22. Kostadinova, T. (2009) Abstain or rebel: Corruption perceptions and voting in East European Elections. Politics & Society, 37(4), pp. 691714.
23. Clark, N. and Rohrschneider, R. (2009) Second-order elections versus first-order thinking: How voters perceive the representation process in a multi-layered system of governance. Journal of European Integration, 31(5), pp. 645664; D. Stockemer (2012) Citizens’ support for the European Union and participation in European Parliament Elections. European Union Politics, 13(1), pp. 26–46.
24. Teixeira, R.A. (1992) The Disappearing American Voter (Washington, DC: Brookings Institute); J.E. Leighley and J. Nagler (2013). Who Votes Now? Demographics, Issues, Inequality and Turnout in the United States (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
25. Gallego, A. (2010) Understanding unequal turnout: Education and voting in comparative perspective. Electoral Studies, 29(2), pp. 239247; D. Stockemer (2017) What affects voter turnout? A review article/meta-analysis of aggregate research. Government and Opposition, 52(4), pp. 698–722.
26. Wattenberg, M.W. (2002) Where Have All the Voters Gone? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press); D. Melo and D. Stockemer (2014) Age and political participation in Germany, France and the UK: A comparative analysis. Comparative European Politics, 12(1), pp. 33–53.
27. Nevitte, N., Blais, A., Gidengil, E. and Nadeau, R. (2009) Socio-economic status and non-voting. In: H.D. Klingemann (Ed.), The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 85108.
28. Söderlund, P. (2008) Retrospective voting and electoral volatility: A Nordic perspective. Scandinavian Political Studies, 31(2), pp. 217240.
29. Corvalan, A. and Cox, P. (2013) Class-biased electoral participation: The youth vote in Chile. Latin American Politics and Society, 55(3), pp. 4768.
30. Gerber, A.S., Gruber, J. and Hungerman, D.M. (2016) Does church attendance cause people to vote? Using blue laws’ repeal to estimate the effect of religiosity on voter turnout. British Journal of Political Science, 46(3), pp. 481500.
31. Spohn, W. (2015) The (fragile) normalization of German identity within Europe. In: W. Spohn, M. Koenig and W. Knöbl (Eds), Religion and National Identities in an Enlarged Europe (Cham: Heidelberg).
32. Smets, K. and van Ham, C. (2013) The embarrassment of riches? A meta-analysis of individual-level research on voter turnout. Electoral Studies, 32(2), pp. 344359.
33. Tomz, M., Wittenberg, J. and King, G. (2003) Clarify: Software for interpreting and presenting statistical results. Journal of Statistical Software, 8(1), pp. 130.
34. Ideally we would have liked to present those relationships the other way around, that is, to show, for instance, the percentage of national- and European-level voters, national-level voters and abstainers among different educational groups, but that would have made a much bigger and clumsier table.
35. For instance the gap in interest between national and European elections is 0.9 for abstainers, 1.0 for consistent voters, and 1.8 for national level voters.
36. Blondel, J., Sinnott, R. and Svensson, P. (1998) People and Parliament in the European Union: Participation, Democracy, and Legitimacy (Oxford: Oxford University Press); N. Clark (2014) Explaining low turnout in European elections: The role of issue salience and institutional perceptions in elections to the European Parliament. Journal of European Integration, 36(4), pp. 339–356.
37. Boomgaarden, H.G., Schuck, A.R.R., Elenbaas, M. and De Vreese, C.H. (2011) Mapping EU attitudes: Conceptual and empirical dimensions of Euroscepticism and EU support. European Union Politics, 12(2), pp. 241266.
38. In separate specifications, we included an interaction term between political knowledge, interest and a sense of duty, as well as for corruption perception at the national and European level, respectively. Neither of these four interaction terms is either statistically significant or substantively relevant.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

European Review
  • ISSN: 1062-7987
  • EISSN: 1474-0575
  • URL: /core/journals/european-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed