Still second-order? European elections in the era of populism, extremism, and euroskepticism
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The continued relevance of the second-order elections (SOE) theory is one of the most widely debated issues in the study of European Parliament (EP) elections. While the theory has been criticized from many angles, the recent success of populist, extremist, and Eurosceptic parties raises additional questions about the applicability of a model that depicts EP elections as a lowstakes affair revolving around national issues. This article tests the SOE model with party-level data from all 175 EP elections held between 1979 and 2019. While turnout in EP elections remains well below participation rates in national elections, the 2019 EP elections were marked by a significant reduction in the average turnout gap. Across all election years, party size is the most potent predictor of electoral gains and losses in EP elections. Incumbency is associated with electoral losses in most EP election years. These effects are moderated by the electoral cycle and the electoral system in some but not all years. The expectation that the SOE model performs worse in countries with fragmented party systems was not confirmed. All in all, the SOE model continues to wield significant explanatory power in both the West and the East.
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