In the Journal

Must Good Samaritans Vote?

Most Westerners believe there is a moral obligation to vote, but it is difficult to justify this widespread moral judgment. Arguments for a duty to vote typically don’t overcome the “particularity problem”:  the reasons theorists offer usually fail to show there is a duty to vote in particular. At best, they show that voting is one of many possible ways to discharge some underlying obligation, such as a duty to exercise civic virtue, contribute to others’ welfare, avoid free-riding, or avoid complicity with injustice. For instance, if one is obligated to avoid complicity with injustice, then one might engage in activism instead of voting. Indeed, voting is often a relatively poor means of discharging these underlying obligations.

Julia Maskivker’s recent work represents the most important attempt to overcome the particularity problem. Further, Maskivker attempts to defend a widespread duty to vote despite conceding that the typical vote has little individual significance. Her argument rests on a duty of Good Samaritanism. We ought to provide help to others when we can do so at a reasonable cost to ourselves. Since many citizens can vote well at a low cost, and voting well contributes to a collective activity that helps people, we ought to vote.

Maskivker argues that citizens should both vote and perform other low-cost acts of altruism—doing activism on Monday does not relieve one of the duty to vote on Tuesday. She responds to the particularity problem by saying, in effect, “Why not both?”

Our recent paper in Politics shows that the particularity problem re-emerges. The particularity problem says, “If the goal is to promote the common good, exhibit civic virtue, or fight for justice, why not do some other action (such as volunteering, activism, or helping to invent a vaccine) other than voting?” Maskivker responds, “Why not both?” We respond, “Instead of both voting and performing some other action, why not do two of those other actions?” If Maskivker responds, “Why not voting plus those other two actions?,” we can respond, “Why not three of the other kind?” And so on.

The problem is that if, as Maskivker concedes, individual votes rarely matter much, then a civic-minded citizen concerned to fight injustice, promote the common good, or exercise civic virtue will almost always have some better alternative than voting. A half hour spent casting a low-value vote could instead be spent doing something higher value, such as picking up litter or volunteering at a soup kitchen. We might not be obligated to perform this higher value action, but we are at least permitted to do so instead of voting.

What Maskivker and others need to do, then, is find some feature that is unique or special to voting which intuitively and plausibly explains why voting in particular is obligatory. Maskivker tries to identify some such features—such as that voting is public, elections are occasional, voting promotes political goods, and so on—but in the paper, we respond by identifying other actions (besides voting) which have these same features, but which no reader would think are obligatory.

Accordingly, Maskivker’s attempt to defend a duty to vote is unsuccessful. Voting well is at best one of many possible ways to be a good Samaritan, and not even a particularly good way at that.

The Problem of Asymmetric Representation of Roma in Slovenia

The UK government’s plans to restrict nomadic lifestyles via The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill has highlighted the difficulties facing Traveller and Roma communities in this country and has resulted in campaigns for the right to Roma/Traveller cultural heritage and lifestyle.  The ‘othering’ of Roma is so acceptable that one MP’s remark that if made Prime Minister for 24 hours he would use the opportunity to ‘see tougher enforcement against Gypsy Travellers’ didn’t prevent him from becoming the leader of the Scottish Conservatives.

The UK Government’s racial disparity audit reveals stark discrimination of Roma/Gypsy communities. In England for example Gypsy/Roma schoolchildren were the most likely of all ethnic group categories to be either temporarily or permanently excluded. As the UK tightens the restrictions on Roma lifestyles it is worth noting that Roma face familiar prejudices globally. Indeed, racism, discrimination and structural disadvantage is endemic to the life-experiences of Roma/Traveller communities across Europe. In an attempt to address the unequal status in 1990 the OSCE set international standards for minority protection and explicitly drew Roma and Gypsy communities into the framework. By 1993 the Council of Europe identified Roma as a true European minority, “one that does not fit into the definitions of national or linguistic minorities” (Recommendation 1203).

Our study of Slovenia, a nation with a famously liberal constitution demonstrates that regardless of the intentions of the architects of democracy Roma populations continually fail to receive equal treatment. Slovenian Roma – a group with a long history of settlement and identity in the Slovenian territory – continue to be marginalized, racialized and routinely categorized as undeserving of equal rights.

Analyzing how Roma were spoken about in the minutes of the Commission for the Constitutional Questions (CCQ) which led to the 1991 independence constitution, we demonstrate how the discourse leading to the design of the constitution racialised Roma as undeserving. They often describe Roma as organisationally incompetent and politically adolescent. They applied “majority gaze” to determine Roma’s right to equal political representation. This outlook persists institutionally as “Roma rights” remain inferior to the rights of other minorities and socially as Roma continue to be racialized as a problem for the law-abiding, tax-paying, Slovenian-speaking non-Roma majority.

Slovenian Roma were not given a visible role in the new Republic. The 1991 Slovenia Constitution recognized Roma as a minority in need of protection alongside two other national minorities – Hungarian and Italian. Nevertheless with no foreign government to lobby on their behalf it is perhaps not surprising that of the three minorities Roma are the least protected and represented. An asymmetric representation resulted from the lack of leverage that Roma had; they were denied the status of a national community because they did not have a mother state. The CCQ “gradated” minority rights – Hungarian and Italian communities were afforded full protection while autochthonous Roma were to be protected by a special law which took a further decade to write and is hardly fit for purpose. While Hungarians and Italians are granted their own MP in the National Parliament and on the municipal level (with an Iris Marion Young style veto over policies affecting their community), Slovenian Roma are not. Their representation is limited to local politics to 20 out of 212 municipalities, without the veto or resources afforded to the other minorities’ reserved councillors.

Further drawing on a framework of marginalization and racialization derived from Cohen and Shilliam, we find that the political structure constructed for the Slovenian Roma racialises the group internally and externally. Externally the group is infantilized and patronized by a relatively benign political class and by the liberal engineers of the Slovenian Republic. Internally, the political structure gives some rights to only a portion of Slovenian Roma (the autochthonous group) rendering it more deserving of resources than other groups. Further we argue that the consistent categorization of Roma as not quite equal, not quite deserving of particular protections and representational rights, and insufficiently grateful for the limited protections the state has provided, resonates loudly with the work of Shilliam helping us explain why Roma were excluded from full acceptance into the Slovenian polity in 1991 and continue to be stigmatized and discriminated against today.

Taking Stock of the Field of Populism Research

Recent years have seen a veritable boom in the study of populism.  In the process, there has been a growing crystallization of different “schools” of populism research.  The lines of demarcation between them can be seen, on one level, in terms of the conceptual status ascribed to populism as a discourse, frame, ideology, strategy, or style.  Beyond this, however, recent debates have centered on the conceptual and normative presuppositions underlying the various definitional approaches.  This can be seen in exemplary fashion with two of the most influential approaches in the literature: namely, the ideational and the post-foundational discursive approaches to populism, based on the paradigmatic contributions of Cas Mudde and Ernesto Laclau, respectively.

My recent article in Politics sets out to examine two claims that have increasingly come to define the dividing lines between the ideational and the post-foundational discursive approaches: namely, that the former is moralistic and the latter is normative in orientation.  The article considers the conceptual merits of both critiques while using them as a springboard to further examine some of the implicit assumptions and pitfalls within Mudde’s and Laclau’s theories.  My argument here is twofold: on the one hand, ideational scholars’ attribution of a moralistic particularity to populism runs the risk of pathologizing the latter for characteristics that are arguably constitutive of all politics, such as the dualistic opposition between an “us” and a “them”.  On the other hand, the danger of a certain crypto-normativity can be seen in Laclau’s tendency to equate populism with the political and simultaneously emphasize its emancipatory effects – a slippage that can be traced back to the way in which he builds up his theory around the category of “demand”.

Ultimately, I argue that the ideational and post-foundational approaches have much in common.  The ideational turn in populism research, in a broad sense, entails a shift in how we think about populism: populist phenomena cannot be reduced to expressions of objective underlying socio-structural group categories such as “the peasantry”; rather, populism is about constructing a notion of “the people” (against “the elite”), which can give rise to a wide variety of populist phenomena – from left-wing to right-wing, agrarian to urban, democratic to autocratic, progressive to reactionary.  Both Mudde and Laclau have made paradigmatic contributions to this literature by explicitly and systematically grounding their definitions of populism with social-constructionist theoretical underpinnings.  The key difference between the two approaches arguably resides in the location that they assign to populism within the wider topography of politics itself: namely, whether populism is understood as a distinctly moralistic phenomenon that falls short of a full-fledged political ideology, or as a quintessentially political logic that points to features inherent to all politics.  My article highlights the need for both approaches to clarify their baseline understandings of politics so as to avoid conceptual pitfalls – such as equating populism with the political as such or, at the other extreme, pathologizing populism for features that no politics can do without, such as the construction of an “us” vs. “them” divide.

Explaining youth radicalism as a positioning of the self at opposite extremes

The concept of ‘young radicals’ has become popular when media, politicians and even the general public talk about young people. However, we know little about those young people who hold radical attitudes. Our recent article in Politics focuses particularly on the young people who place themselves on the extreme ends of the left-right ideological scale.

By using survey data from nine European countries (France, Greece, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK), and focusing only on people at age of 18 to 35, we analysed which kind of characteristics, that are usually used for studying violent behaviour, are common for young people who hold radical attitudes. We also asked how those with radical right attitudes differ from those with radical left ones.

Our results demonstrate that ‘radicalness’ of young people is strongly related to experiencing economic difficulties and participation in more contentious political activism. The data does not allow us to say which come first – whether young people choose ’radical’ attitudes before or after experiencing economically hard times or participation in protests like house occupations or riots, but it is clear that in this respect there is no difference between those opting for left or right.

The difference between the ‘young radicals’ on the right and left are, instead, defined by gender and adherence to authoritarian values. Young men are more likely to hold radical right rather than radical left attitudes – a result which is similar to prior studies focusing on the participation in radical right movements. Radical right attitudes also relate strongly with authoritarian values such as thinking that children should obey their parents or that there is need for stiffer sentences for those who have committed certain crimes. Even support for democracy is lower among those young people who hold radical right rather than radical left attitudes. Other factors, for example the socio-economic background, specific personality traits or the country of residence, do not play any substantial role here.

Our results show that the use of a general term ‘young radicals’ is misleading as there are important intra-group differences. Moreover, in the context of rising economic difficulties, it would be important to pay particular attention to young people and investigate further the reasons why experienced hard times strongly relate to radical attitudes.

How European were the 2019 elections to the European Parliament?

Although elections to the European Parliament are widely known as second-order national elections, recent developments indicate that these elections start to become more European contests. The EP has become more powerful with the Maastricht Treaty and subsequent treaty changes, and with the introduction of the Spitzenkandidaten (‘lead candidate’) system in 2014, elections to the EP are supposed to become more consequential, too. Moreover, in light of the empirical evidence on the increasing politicization of Europe, it seems to be interesting to finally study how European these contests at the European level of governance actually are. Such an enquiry is even more interesting in view of the fact that the 2019 EP electoral contests were widely framed as “a battle over Europe’s future”.

My recent article in Politics investigates precisely this growing relevance of Europe and European issues for the case of the 2019 EP elections. The ultimate contribution of this article is an examination the Europeanness of the 2019 EP elections from the perspective of the demand and the supply side of political competition. In doing this, I draw on a new data set covering the election campaigns and the mobilization potential of Europeanness in five north-west European countries (Austria, France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom).

On the one hand, the findings indicate that the elections to the EP were more European contests than ever before in the history of these elections – yet this is not true in the same way for all of the countries under consideration. A clear sense of Europeanness especially exists in those countries where European issues dominated the general (i.e. national) political debate and not only the EP election campaign. On the other hand, the Europeanness of electorates matters for electoral participation. The European electorate’s orientations towards EU politics have an impact on people’s decision to cast a ballot in EP elections. The genuine interest of European citizens in EU politics as well as their unbiased attachment to the EU are important predictors for turnout. Finally, the double perspective on political campaigns and the electorate brought to light that in the two countries, where the debate over European issues was extensive (France and the UK), genuine interest in EU politics was also a mobilizing factor for respondents – but, interestingly, this was also the case in the two countries that saw less (Austria) or even very little significant debate over European issues (Germany).

Altogether, the findings of my paper illustrate that while Europeanness is unequivocally relevant in EP elections – European issues shape the public debate around these contests and genuine European orientations have the power to mobilize citizens – national factors still play an important role in these elections.

A Critical Evaluation of Ireland’s Citizens’ Dialogues on the Future of Europe

Citizens dialogues on the future of Europe are taking place across Europe since 2018. These calibres of mini public were organised with the intent of fulfilling elite commitments made in the Rome declaration in March 2017. The Rome declaration commits to incorporating EU citizens into the conversation on Europe and to provide them with opportunities to shape their countries national positions on Europe’s future form and functioning in key policy areas. My recent paper in Politics explores Ireland’s set of citizens’ dialogues – which have since been deemed a model of best practice – and evaluates the effectiveness of these dialogues in empowering Irish citizens to shape the national position on Europe. The paper argues that although the dialogues were worthy exercises in communicating Europe to citizens at a time when Europe was at political crossroads, the design of the dialogues hindered their full democratic potential.

Funded by the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFaT) and organised by European Movement Ireland (EMI), Ireland’s citizens’ dialogues were relatively more systematic and participatory in approach compared to other dialogues across Europe. However, this so-called best practice approach was not without its shortcomings. These dialogues were not intended to empower citizens to be prescriptive in their recommendations, nor bind policymakers to citizens’ preferences on Europe. Evidence suggests that these dialogues resembled a government PR exercise. Public representatives fulfilled a commitment to communicate Europe to Irish citizens but subsequently designed the events in such a way that government policy positions and long-term preference bargaining opportunities would not be constrained by public opinion.

Good mini publics seek to empower citizens to affect policy change. This requires a representative sample of the population (adequate diversity), applied mechanisms to induce deliberation (as opposed to casual debate), adequate time allocation for discussion and a general desire for participants to reach consensus on key critical issues. Ireland’s dialogues lacked these characteristics. In turn, the quality of the dialogues was poor, and this is reflected Ireland’s national report on the Future of Europe. A summary of each shortcoming is as follows:

  1. Participants were recruited through a self-selection procedure which hindered the full potential for a diversity in participant make-up. Those who attended were predominantly white-Irish, relatively educated and had an overwhelming pro-EU outlook. Due to self-selection, there was also some evidence of a snowball effect in that some participants arrived with friends/relatives who may or may have not shared similar backgrounds and attitudes on key issues. Thus, there was a risk that group homogeneity was increased.
  2. Discussion-based questions were rather wordy and were somewhat difficult for participants to comprehend. More importantly, the questions did not clearly pertain to the future direction of EU integration and governance in key policy areas. Due to the self-selection process (and time restrictions), adequately briefing participants in advance of the events was not feasible. Although participants received a briefing document on arrival, it was clear that there were few adequate measures taken to ensure that participants had basic knowledge of the EU prior to discussing important and complex policy issues. This made it difficult for participants to offer well-thought-out and prescriptive recommendations to their public representatives. One argues that prescriptive recommendations are important if one expects such recommendations to hold informative weight that can go some way to holding policymakers to account for public preferences.
  3. Time allocation was quite limited during these events and this significantly hindered any potential for the development of well informed, critically engaged, and meaningful discussion and recommendations. Each event lasted approximately 2.5 hours in total. Thus, participants were required to discuss five policy topics with only a mere 10 minutes per topic. Such strict time allowances could not allow for an adequate process of critical debate, let alone deliberation.

It is suggested by the design that Ireland’s dialogues were not intended to empower citizens to generate critically deduced, prescriptive recommendations on the future of Europe to national policymakers; for doing so would likely bind policymakers to citizens preferences which could affect intergovernmental bargaining at a later stage. Ireland’s national report on the citizens dialogues shows that citizens’ suggestions were broad and vague in essence and do not reflect clear preferences for European integration in terms of form and functioning. Whilst there is no doubt that the Irish government tried to modernise citizens’ dialogues to fulfil commitments made in Rome, research data suggests that Ireland’s dialogues resembled a government PR exercise rather than a genuine willingness to empower citizens to shape the national position. Thus, despite the inherent democratic potential of the dialogues, these mini publics were fundamentally ineffective in truly empowering citizens to shape the future form and functioning of the EU.

Economic evaluations and regime support in China

Economic performance is of particular relevance to authoritarian regimes because satisfactory economic outcomes give the regime room to maneuver in immediate difficulties and keep them resilient under the pressure of political reform. Political leaders in Kazakhstan, Russia, Venezuela, Vietnam, and other authoritarian countries universally prioritize economic development as a national strategy. As an authoritarian nation with the world’s largest population, China’s politics provide a case for studying the maintenance of public support by authoritarian regimes through their economic performance.

Focusing on the impact of economic conditions on regime support enables us to examine how citizens’ economic evaluation affects their support for a political system. Although a link between the economic situation and governmental approval has been widely realized (see here, here, here and here), little is known about the psychological mechanism by which the economic situation affects the public’s regime support in an authoritarian context.

My recent article in Politics attempts to uncover the political-psychological mechanism in the relationship between public evaluations of economic conditions and political support for authoritarian regimes in the case of China. Citizens’ economic evaluations are systematically scrutinized on two dimensions: subject-based perceptions (sociotropic or egocentric perspectives) and time-based perceptions (retrospective or prospective perspectives). The subject-based economic perception examines the direction and strength of the bond between evaluation of national economy and regime support, and between evaluation of individual economic conditions and regime support. The time-based economic perception examines the direction and strength of the bond between retrospective economic evaluation and regime support and between prospective economic evaluation and regime support.

My findings show that the national economy outweighs household economic conditions in its effects on the public’s support of the regime. When sociotropic evaluation of national economic conditions and egocentric evaluation of personal economic status are tested independently, each type of economic evaluation has a significant effect on regime support. However, after controlling for the evaluation of national economic conditions, the evaluation of individual economic status does not have significant effects on regime support.

However, this does not mean that citizens’ individual economic conditions are trivial in shaping public support for regimes. The results show that the gap between evaluations of the national economy and individual economic situations debilitates regime support. Even if citizens evaluate economic improvement highly when compared with the past or they are optimistic about prospective development of the national economy, the gap between evaluation of the national economy and individual economic conditions erodes their regime support.

The present study identified the relevance of retrospective and prospective evaluations of the economic situation to political support, which sheds a light on political leaders’ ruling strategies. Producing despair of the past and hope for the future contributes to sustaining public support. First, political leaders are keen on propaganda concerning the worse situation of the past. In particular, when economic conditions are unsatisfactory at present, it becomes more important to stress the magnificent improvements in the economy compared with the past. Second, political leaders make an effort to create a blueprint for the realization of a great dream. They are particularly good at creating and manipulating symbols of the regime’s commitments to great national goals, by which ordinary people are easily attracted. The results of this study show that people who are optimistic about future economic prospects tend to have a higher level of regime support.

The nation, the region and ‘the people’

The past two decades have not only seen political and media discourse dominated by the ‘rise of populism’ but also an increase of calls to ‘return sovereignty’ to nations and regions. Such calls have most recently been illustrated in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, with the rise of ‘vaccine nationalism’ such as those from Matteo Salvini’s Lega, as well as the reignition of demands for Scottish Independence as a result of the UK’s handling of the pandemic.

This most recent flare up, however, had been preceded by a series of campaigns calling for independence in Catalonia and Scotland (conducted by Centrist and Left-wing parties), the exit of Britain from the European Union (conducted predominantly by the Right/Far Right) and also campaigns for both greater regional autonomy for Lombardy and Veneto, to changing  Italy’s relationship with the EU (both conducted by the Far Right Lega). These campaigns, conducted by both nationalist and regionalist Parties ranging from the Far Left to the Far Right, had been tied together by a common thread not only of ‘sovereignty’ but also of a claim to represent the ‘popular will’ and in some cases, demands to ‘protect borders against Others’

Regionalist and nationalist parties across the globe naturally have different aims and interests. However, the ‘us v them’ (region v nation; nation v supranational institution/other nation) logic which is central to regionalist and nationalist ideologies means that their discourse may well be combined with the logic of populism i.e. the juxtaposition between ‘the people’ and ‘the elite’ and, in terms of more Far Right and exclusionary forms of regionalism and nationalism, also to nativism (perceived ‘natives’ v perceived ‘non-natives’).

Against this backdrop, my research reveals how critically important it is to unpack the ideational content of these ‘thin-centred’ ideologies in order to avoid a conflation between these terms. My recent article in Politics does so by performing a comparative case study of propaganda produced by the Far-Right Italian Lega and Catalan secessionist parties ranging from the Far Left to the Centre Right. My work shows that despite nuances in their discourse these ideologically diverse parties share a similar populist ideational logic based on a discourse of morality, anti-elitism and appeals to ‘the people’s’ sovereignty.

At the same time, it emphasises the crucial role played by the articulation of the core ideologies of nationalism and regionalism in determining the presence of nativist discourse. While populism acts as a link between ideological heterogeneous nationalist and regionalist movements, nativism instead acts as a key dividing line between the Far-Right Lega, and the Catalan secessionist parties.

Indeed, the framework derived emphasises the importance of distinguishing between ethnic (exclusionary) and civic (inclusionary) forms of regionalism and nationalism. It is in its more exclusionary and ethnic articulations that nativism equips the nation-state with a ‘national identity’, with which to fashion its people by positing a ‘we’ whose identity is simply incommensurable with everything external and ‘alien’ to it’. In terms of populist regionalism, nativism can also emerge as a result of a combination of regionalism and xenophobia, if the region is viewed in exclusionary terms and involves a process of ‘othering’ which ‘relies on an ‘us-them distinction’.

The populist nationalist and populist regionalist framework derived from this case study, while building on existing paradigms, represents a significant departure as it demonstrates how one minimalist framework may be applied to examine a wide range of regionalist and nationalist parties with heterogeneous ideological positions, whilst also emphasising the importance of viewing populism and nativism as merely secondary ideational and/or discursive articulations of a core ideology.

Studying the collective candidacy of the Brazilian Bancada Ativista

Collective mandates in Brazil are now widespread. The gathering of several individuals to, jointly, represent a single chair is constituting a new way of political leadership in the Portuguese-speaking Latin American giant. Over 400 collective candidacies sought to reach a chair in Brazil’s 2020 elections, of which 20 have been successfully elected. This political renewal movement departed from the pioneering collective plank of the Bancada Ativista.

The Bancada Ativista was publicly launched in the 2018 elections as a common platform constituted by nine co-candidates running together to a single seat in the State Chamber of Sao Paulo. The formation of this victorious collective candidacy conveys a history of successful political curation strategies and mapping of activists and grassroots scattered in informal spaces, seeking the articulation of various sub-represented social demands. This representational bridging aimed to renew the existing party cadres, expanding the political system’s permeability to the demands of its constituents, opening creative political venues deriving from the social unrest that swept Brazil since 2013.

In the words of one of the co-deputies of the Bancada, Anne Rammi, interviewed for our research: “What would the impact of people that have been effectively participating in street-politics be within the political-institutional field if they are leading such disputes within that field instead of traditional politicians with formal mandates?”.

Attaining 10th place in the legislative chamber of the largest and most populous Brazilian state (Sao Paulo), the Bancada Ativista established new discursive spaces for formal representation in the 2018 elections. This is particularly insightful for two main reasons. On the one hand, Brazil forecloses a system of representation that highly favours mainstream parties and prominent personalist figures. Hence, the success of a collective candidacy that seeks to challenge the personalized form of political leadership draws our attention to the exploration of new social and political dynamics in Brazil’s electoral dispute. On the other, most analyses of the aftermath of the 2018 elections tend to take the rise of the right-wing candidate and elected president Jair Bolsonaro as a central explanatory factor. However, the victorious candidacy of the Bancada Ativista exhibits substantial aspects for comprehending the political disputes occurring in Brazil, which certainly overreach Bolsonaro’s figure.

Our analysis of the Bancada’s campaign highlights the importance of studying local/regional elections to understand party and political-system changes. This study also calls scholars and analysts to carefully reflect on whether personalism constitutes such a central factor in contemporary electoral politics as assumed by the sheer volume of publications on personalism and institutional crisis within mainstream political science.

Do Voters hold Parties Accountable in European Parliament Elections?

Do voters use information on parties’ legislative work at EU level when voting in European Parliament (EP) elections? Exactly like in the workplace – where employers monitor the concrete performance of employees – it is crucial that voters keep tabs on the performance of political parties and use that information come election time (retrospective voting). Retrospective voting is considered an optimal strategy, but it is cognitively demanding and prone to biases. For this reason, Ferejohn suggested that monitoring ‘valence’ performance indicators – such as attendance to legislative plenary sessions – is a more convenient shortcut that enables voters to keep tabs on representative effectively.

Other than the inherent difficulties of retrospective voting, EP elections make it even harder: these elections have displayed features of ‘barometer’ or ‘second-order’ elections, and because of that scholars expect it to be even more difficult for voters to monitor what political parties concretely do when serving in the EP, and to use that information when they cast their vote in EP elections. But were things different in 2019, in an era where the politicisation of the EU is at its height?

In my recent article in Politics, I use retrospective data on political parties’ legislative activities of the previous EP term (2014-2019) – web-scraped from the EP official website – to test whether parties with higher plenary attendance, number of speeches delivered, and number of members filling rapporteurships and committee chairmanship positions are rewarded by voters in the 2019 elections. Vote choice data for the 2019 EP elections was retrieved from the European Election Study 2019.

I find that, controlling for ideological congruence and other relevant party characteristics, voters do reward political parties that were more active in the previous EP legislative term, especially as it pertains plenary attendance, a clear valence activity that unambiguously signals hard-work. Parties that gave a lot of speeches, were, instead penalised – possibly the result of speeches being seeing as theatrical, ‘show-horse’ activities, with less immediate links to policy work.

To fully believe these findings, the mechanism – i.e. that voters are aware of political parties’ legislative records – needed to be probed further. To do that, I leveraged the different electoral rules used by the various Member States in the 2019 European elections, as well as the EES 2019 survey question “how closely did you follow the campaign ahead of the European Parliament elections?”. Information about legislative records, in fact, is more likely to get out in electoral systems that encourage the personal vote – e.g. systems with open ballots or, alternatively, systems with small district magnitudes. The system which leads to the highest personal vote incentives is the open list with large district magnitudes, while a closed-list system with large district magnitudes depresses the personal vote most.

I find that the higher the personal vote incentive in a Member State, the more parties’ legislative productivity (in work-horse activities) is electorally beneficial, and especially so in the sample of voters that were paying attention to the EP election campaign.

There is sound evidence that high levels of activity in the previous EP term – especially of the ‘work-horse’ type – give an electoral advantage to national parties. And that, therefore, the normative requirement of retrospective voting can be a feature of multi-level, supranational contexts as well.