Skip to main content Accessibility help

Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting Defection in the European Parliament

  • Simon Hix (a1)

Despite a sophisticated understanding of the impact of electoral institutions on macrolevel political behavior, little is known about the relationship between these institutions and microlevel legislative behavior. This article reviews existing claims about this relationship and develops a model for predicting how electoral institutions affect the relationship between parliamentarians and their party principals in the context of the European Parliament. The European Parliament is an ideal laboratory for investigating these effects, because in each European Union member state, different institutions are used to elect Members of European Parliament (MEPs). The results of this model, tested on four hundred thousand individual MEP vote decisions, show that candidate-centered electoral systems (such as open-list proportional representation or single-transferable-vote systems) and decentralized candidate-selection rules produce parliamentarians independent from their party principals. By contrast, party-centered electoral systems (such as closed-list proportional representation systems) and centralized candidate-selection rules produce parliamentarians beholden to the parties that fight elections and choose candidates: in the case of the European Parliament, the national parties.

    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting Defection in the European Parliament
      Available formats
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting Defection in the European Parliament
      Available formats
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      Electoral Institutions and Legislative Behavior: Explaining Voting Defection in the European Parliament
      Available formats
Hide All

1 See, for example, Rae, Douglas, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws, rev. ed. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971); Lijphart, Arend, Electoral Systems and Party Systems (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); Cox, Gary, Making Votes Count: Strategic Coordination in the World's Electoral Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); and Boix, Carles, “Setting the Rules of the Game: The Choice of Electoral Systems in Advanced Democracies,” American Political Science Review 93 (September 1999).

2 Cf. Bowler, Shaun and Farrell, David, “Legislator Shirking and Voter Monitoring: Impacts of European Parliament Electoral Systems upon Legislator-Voter Relationships,” Journal of Common Market Studies 31 (March 1993).

3 See, for example, Marquand, David, Parliament for Europe (London: Cape, 1979).

4 Reif, Karlheinz and Schmitt, Hermann, “Nine Second-Order National Elections: A Conceptual Framework for the Analysis of European Election Results,” European Journal of Political Research 8:1 (1980); Eijk, Cees van der and Franklin, Mark, eds., Choosing Europe? The European Electorate and National Politics in the Face of Union (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1996); and Marsh, Michael, “Testing the Second-Order Model after Four European Elections,” British Journal of Political Science 28 (October 1998).

5 See, for example, Corbett, Richard, Shackleton, Michael, and Jacobs, Francis, The European Parliament, 4th ed. (London: Catermill, 2000), 1025.

6 Lodge, Juliet and Hermann, Valentine, Direct Elections to the European Parliament: A Community Perspective (London: Macmillan, 1982).

7 See, for example, Pridham, Geoffrey and Pridham, Pippa, Transnational Party Co-operation and European Integration (London: Allen and Unwin, 1981); and Andeweg, Rudy, “The Reshaping of National Party Systems,” in Hayward, Jack, ed., The Crisis of Political Representation in Europe (London: Frank Cass, 1995).

8 See, for example, Katz, Richard S., A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980); , Farrell, Comparing Electoral Systems (New York: Prentice Hall, 1997); Samuels, David J., “Incentives to Cultivate a Party Vote in Candidate-Centric Electoral Systems: Evidence from Brazil,” Comparative Political Studies 32 (April 1999); Mitchell, Paul, “Voters and Their Representatives: Electoral Institutions and Delegation in Parliamentary Democracies,” European Journal of Political Research 37 (2000); and Pennings, Paul and Hazan, Reuven Y., eds., “Special Issue: Democratizing Candidate Selection: Causes and Consequences,” Party Politics 7 (May 2001).

9 Carey, John and Shugart, Matthew S., “Incentives to Cultivate a Personal Vote: A Rank Ordering of Electoral Formulas,” Electoral Studies 14 (December 1995).

10 Gallagher, Michael, “Introduction,” in , Gallagher and , Marsh, eds., Candidate Selection in Comparative Perspective: The Secret Garden of Politics (London: Sage, 1988); idem, “Conclusion,” in Gallagher and Norris, Pippa, “Conclusions: Comparing Passages to Power,” in , Norns, ed., Passages to Power: Legislative Recruitment in Advanced Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Bille, Lars, “Democratizing a Democratic Procedure: Myth or Reality? Candidate Selection in Western European Parties, 1960–1990,” Party Politics 1 (May 2001); , Katz, “The Problem of Candidate Selection and Models of Party Democracy,” Party Politics 7 (May 2001); and Rahat, Gideon and , Hazan, “Candidate Selection Methods: An Analytical Framework,” Party Politics 7 (May 2001).

11 Schattschneider, Elmer E., Party Government (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1942), 1.

12 See Huber, John, “The Vote of Confidence in Parliamentary Democracies,” American Political Science Review 90 (June 1996); and Diermeier, Daniel and Feddersen, Timothy J., “Cohesion in Legislatures and the Vote of Confidence Procedure,” American Political Science Review 92 (September 1998).

13 Carey, “Getting Their Way, or Getting in the Way? Presidents and Party Unity in Legislative Voting,” (Manuscript; Washington University, St. Louis; 2002).

14 See Riker, William H., “Federalism,” in Greenstein, Fred I. and Polsby, Nelson W., eds., Governmental Institutions and Processes, vol. 5 of the Handbook of Political Science (Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1975); Chandler, William M., “Political Parties and Federalism,” in Bakvis, Herman and , Chandler, eds., Political Parties and the State (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1987); and the chapters on federal states in , Katz and Mair, Peter, Party Organizations: A Data Handbook on Party Organizations in Western Democracies, 1960–90 (London: Sage Publications, 1992).

15 See, in particular, , Huber, Rationalizing Parliament: Legislative Institutions and Party Politics in France (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

16 This builds on the model in Gabel, Matthew and Hix, Simon, “The European Parliament and Executive Politics in the EU: Voting Behaviour and the Commission President Investiture Procedure,” in Hosli, Madeleine O., Deemen, Adrian Van, and Widgrén, Mika, eds., Institutional Challenges in the European Union (London: Routledge, 2002), 2832.

17 Scarrow, Susan, “Political Career Paths and the European Parliament,” Legislative Studies Quarterly 22 (May 1997).

18 See Noury, Abdul and Roland, Gerard, “More Power to the European Parliament?” Economic Policy 34 (October 2002); and Hix, Noury, and Roland, “Power to the Parties: Cohesion and Competition in the European Parliament, 1979—2001,” BritishJournal ofPolitical Science (forthcoming).

19 This behaviour by national parties was confirmed in interviews with inter alia Richard Corbett MEP (British Labour Party), Michiel van Hulthen MEP (Dutch Labour Party), Heidi Hautala MEP (Finnish Green Party), and Klaus Welle, the secretary-general of the Group of the European People's Party-European Democrats.

20 The data were collected as part of the “How MEPs Vote” project, in which Abdul Noury (Université Libre de Bruxelles), Gérard Roland (University of California, Berkeley), and I have compiled all the roll-call votes that took place in the European Parliament between 1979 and 2004 (approximately twelve thousand votes by two thousand MEPs). See , Hix, “Legislative Behaviour and Party Competition in the European Parliament: An Application of Nominate to the EU,” Journal ofCommon Market Studies 39 (November 2001); Noury and Roland (fn. 18); and Hix, Noury, and Roland (fn. 18).

21 In other words, there are two different ways to abstain in a roll-call vote in the European Parliament: by registering an abstain vote, or by not participating in the vote. Arguably, both of these types of abstention are strategic. However, whereas an abstain vote is clearly strategic, since it involves going on record as abstaining, there are many nonstrategic reasons for nonparticipation, ranging from physical inability to be present at the time of a vote (connections to Strasbourg are few and far between) to decisions to use the time to conduct other important business. Hence, to capture the bulk of strategic abstentions, the registered abstain votes are included in the analysis, while the decisions not to participate are excluded.

22 Hix (fn. 20); idem, “Parliamentary Behavior with Two Principals: Preferences, Parties, and Voting in the European Parliament,” American Journal of Political Science 46 (July 2002); and , Noury, “Ideology, Nationality and Euro-Parliamentarians,” European Union Politics 3 (March 2002).

23 See, for example, Long, J. Scott, Regression Models for Categorical and Limited Dependent Variables (Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage, 1997).

24 European Parliament, Laws Governing the European Parliament Elections, final ed. (Brussels: European Parliament-DG for Information and Public Relations, 1999).

25 Raunio, Tapio, “Losing Independence but Gaining Recognition? Contacts Between MEPs and National Parties,” Party Politics 6 (April 2000).

26 See the European Parliament Research Group (EPRG) homepage (, accessed October 23,2003).

27 Hix (fn. 22).

28 See, for example, European Communities, List of Members, 29-09-2000 (Luxembourg: Office of Official Publications of the European Communities, 2000).

* I would like to thank Giancomo Benedetto, Clifford Carrubba, Christophe Crombez. David Epstein, David Farrell, Fabio Franchino, Matthew Gabel, Simon Hug, George Jones, Ken Kollman, Vanentino Larcinese, Paul Mitchell, Abdul Noury, Sharyn O'Halloran, Gerald Schneider, Roger Scully, and the three anonymous referees for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this article. The research for this article was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council of the United Kingdom (grant No. L213 25 2019).

Recommend this journal

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

World Politics
  • ISSN: 0043-8871
  • EISSN: 1086-3338
  • URL: /core/journals/world-politics
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

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