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Throwing out the Bums: Protest Voting and Unorthodox Parties after Communism

  • Grigore Pop-Eleches (a1)


The electoral rise of unorthodox parties (UOPs) in recent East European elections raises some puzzling questions about electoral dynamics in new democracies. Why did the power alternation of the mid-1990s not result in party-system consolidation, as suggested by some earlier studies, but instead give way to a much more chaotic environment in which established mainstream political parties lost considerable ground to new political formations based on personalist and populist appeals? Why did this reversal in Eastern Europe happen during a period of economic recovery, remarkable Western integration progress, and a broad acceptance of electoral democracy as the only game in town? This article suggests that these electoral dynamics can be explained by focusing on the interaction between protest voting and election sequence. While protest voting to punish unpopular incumbents has been a widespread but understudied practice since the collapse of communism, the beneficiaries of these protest votes have changed in recent elections. Whereas in the first two generations of postcommunist elections, disgruntled voters could opt for untried mainstream alternatives, in third-generation elections (defined as elections taking place after at least two different ideological camps have governed in the postcommunist period) voters had fewer untried mainstream alternatives, and therefore opted in greater number for unorthodox parties. This explanation receives strong empirical support from statistical tests using aggregate data from seventy-six parliamentary elections in fourteen East European countries from 1990 to 2006, survey evidence from twelve postcommunist elections from 1996 to 2004, and a survey experiment in Bulgaria in 2008.



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* I would like to thank Chris Achen, Nancy Bermeo, Ruth Berins Collier, Anna Grzymala-Busse, Keena Lipsitz, Kristin Michelitch, Conor O'Dwyer, Regina Smyth, Joshua Tucker, and four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper.

Throwing out the Bums: Protest Voting and Unorthodox Parties after Communism

  • Grigore Pop-Eleches (a1)


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