The 2017 French Legislative Election: Why Was Voter Turnout So Low and What Can Be Done About It?

by Filip Kostelka, University of Montreal and Sciences Po, Paris

Note: French version is here. / Version en français se trouve ici. / 
This text was published in French as an op-ed  in the journal Le Monde. 


The most striking outcome of the first round of the 2017 election to the French National Assembly is that less than half of the registered voters came to the polls. The participation rate of 48.7 %, down by 8.5 percentage points from the last election in 2012, is the lowest in the history of the French legislative contests since 1945. Two factors are likely to have contributed to this particularly weak participation rate. The first and obvious factor is the recent transformation of the French party system: the collapse of the traditional parties on the centre left and centre right; the far right’s loss of credibility in the preceding presidential election; and the centrist profile of the anticipated winner, unlikely to generate strong positive or negative mobilization in the electorate.

Yet, there is another important culprit: high election frequency. Sunday’s election was the third round of voting in 2017 after two rounds of presidential elections. More generally, in the last three years, a French citizen could vote – depending on party competition in his or her electoral district – in up to 9 contests: municipal elections (2014, 2 rounds), European Parliament elections (2014), departmental elections (2015, 2 rounds), regional elections (2015, 2 rounds), and presidential elections (2017, 2 rounds). On top of that, French voters could also participate in two rounds of open presidential primaries organized in the run-up to the 2017 presidential elections by the main centre-right and centre-left parties as well as the Greens. This proliferation of elections is unprecedented in the French electoral history. Just a few decades ago, the number of participatory demands on French citizens was substantially lower. For instance, in the three years preceding the legislative election of 1978, there were at maximum 4 opportunities to vote: departmental elections (1976, 2 rounds but only half of the electorate was eligible to vote) and municipal elections (1977, 2 rounds).

Figure 1: Voter Turnout in the First Round of the French Legislative Elections since 1958

As a matter of fact, election frequency in France has strongly increased since the late 1970s. This is due to a host of institutional reforms: the introduction of direct elections to the European Parliament (1979), decentralization and the introduction of regional elections (1986), and the reduction of the presidential mandate from 7 to 5 years (2002). In addition, before last Sunday’s election, new territorial reforms (of 2010 and 2013) resulted in a temporary reduction of the term of the regional and some departmental representatives from 6 to 5 and 4 years respectively. Finally, mainstream French political parties have newly held open primaries before presidential elections: the centre left since 2012 and the centre right since 2017. This steep rise in election frequency coincides with the decline in voter turnout in the French legislative elections, which started in the early 1980s and reached its peak on Sunday (see Figure 1).

Political science literature shows that high election frequency depresses voter turnout through several channels, affecting both citizens’ attitudes and political parties’ mobilization capacities. In my research, I found support for the negative effect of election frequency on voter turnout in two very different contexts. First, in my PhD dissertation defended at Sciences Po, Paris in 2015, I demonstrate that election frequency substantively contributes to the strong decline in voter turnout that has been observed in post-communist democracies since the 1990s. Second, in a paper presented at the 2017 Canadian Political Science Association meeting, my co-author Alexander Wüttke (University of Manheim) and I observe a robust relationship between election frequency and voter turnout in Canada and Germany. The more frequent elections are the lower voter turnout in every single election, particularly in less important elections.

As low voter tumour is normatively undesirable, French policy-makers should take lessons from other countries that record (much) higher voting rates. The best example is Sweden, one of the rare Western democracies in which voter turnout even increased since the early 1990s. Swedes typically vote twice every four years as all elections but those to the European parliament are held simultaneously. Of course, the simultaneity of different election types entails the risk of contamination (i.e. the political developments in one electoral arena may affect the results in another arena). Nonetheless, an abstention rate of more than 50 % is perhaps worse than any realistic degree of contamination.

Combining various types of electoral contests could achieve a Pareto-optimum number of elections in terms of high turnout and low contamination effects across different electoral arenas. In the French context, it seems logical to combine presidential and legislative elections on the one hand; and municipal, departmental, and regional elections on the other. This would boost voter turnout not only because of lower election frequency but also because the less important election type (e.g. legislative elections) would benefit from the mobilization effect of the more important type (e.g. presidential elections). Such a measure would probably not solve the issue of the decline in voter turnout altogether but it could largely offset the negative trend.

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What is more important: winning or winning in a fair election?

By Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, Philipp Harfst, and Sarah C. Dingler (University of Salzburg)

What is the story?

Perceptions of electoral fairness have an impact on voters’ attitudes and behaviour. Consequently, we believe that electoral malpractice will negatively affect citizens’ satisfaction with democracy. In a recently published article in the Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties we argue that election tinkering shapes citizens’ feelings about democracy.


The first hypothesis we examine draws on the direct link between electoral fraud and voters’ attitudes towards democracy. We expect that a high amount of fraud reported in elections should be related to low levels of satisfaction with the way democracy works.

Winning an election could change the nature of this relationship and positively affect voters’ attitudes irrespective of the degree of electoral misconduct. Thus, we also hypothesise that voters’ status as winners or losers will mediate the effect of electoral fraud on satisfaction with democracy.


Using survey data from CSES, we explore 48 elections in 29 countries in the timespan between 1998 and 2006. Rather unsurprisingly, we can show that high levels of electoral fraud correspond to a lower degree of satisfaction with democracy (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: Overall magnitude of problems in elections in relation to average satisfaction with democracy.

Notes: Data taken from CSES and QED. Figure contains 57 elections. Pearson’s r = −0.55.

However, this relationship is not straightforward. We find that citizens’ attitudes also depend on the outcomes of the election. While citizens who have voted for the winning party are more satisfied, this relationship only holds when elections are free and fair. As soon as elections are fraught with manipulation and malpractice, winning and losing no longer exert different effects on voters’ evaluation of the way democracy works. Election fraud thus affects the perceptions of citizens in the same way, no matter if they are on the winning or losing side.


Our findings have a far-reaching impact: If satisfaction with democracy is anchored on citizens’ evaluation of the performance of governments, the cost of electoral malpractice is high. Fraudulent practices are likely to negatively affect citizens’ evaluations of government and, ultimately, could undermine regime stability, especially in emerging or fragile democracies. We know that broad support for democratic values is an underlying condition for democratic consolidation. Widespread electoral fraud could therefore result in particularly inauspicious climates for the survival of new democracies. Yet our findings offer a glimmer of hope: citizens’ levels of satisfaction in third wave democracies remains higher than in older established democracies in spite of electoral malpractice.

For more details, see Jessica Fortin-Rittberger, Philipp Harfst & Sarah C. Dingler. 2017. “The costs of electoral fraud: establishing the link between electoral integrity, winning an election, and satisfaction with democracy”. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion and Parties, DOI: 10.1080/17457289.2017.1310111.



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Voter Turnout and Social Fractionalization

By Ignacio Lago (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Sandra Bermúdez (Universitat Pompeu Fabra), Marc Guinjoan (Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona), and Pablo Simón (Universidad Carlos III de Madrid).

Research question

Social fractionalisation has been omitted in most influential cross-sectional studies on turnout, and when it has been included, evidence is, at best, mixed, The purpose of this article is to revisit the relationship between social fractionalisation and turnout and also to delve into the mechanisms that may explain this link.


Previous literature stems from the under-specification of the mechanisms that link social fractionalisation with electoral participation. In particular, to date, the literature has not considered the potential direct and indirect effects of social diversity on turnout, which may eventually explain the lack of consensus both from the theoretical and the empirical point of view. Our argument is that the causal mechanism linking social fractionalisation and turnout may be explained directly by the lesser attachment of the minority group to the community and/or indirectly via the lesser provision of civic duty among the minority


We test our arguments empirically by using Franklin’s models, which account for the level of turnout in lower chamber elections in 22 countries from 1945 to 1999, but we add ethnic, linguistic and religious fragmentation to the specifications. The results indicate that turnout is negatively correlated with ethnic and linguistic fragmentation, but not with religious diversity. Second, as this aggregate association in not enough to pin down the origin of this finding, we then use individual data from electios in Catalonia (Spain) and Quebec (Canada), two multilingual territories, to examine to what extent social fractionalisation affects voting and the sense of duty to vote. By changing the majority ethnic group across regional and national elections, we show that those individuals who are relatively more averse to mixing with others different to themselves have a lower propensity to vote and are less likely to construe voting as a civic duty when they belong to the minority group.


We found that ethnic and, above all, linguistic heterogeneity are negatively correlated with turnout (see Figure 1). These results open the door for us to delve into the mechanisms that may explain this relationship at the aggregate level. For that purpose, we have conducted an individual analysis to test how civic duty, one of the main motivations that bring individuals to participate in elections, may affect turnout. Relying on individual data from Catalonia and Quebec, we have shown that people are more prone to think that voting is a moral obligation when the preferences of the majority are similar to their own. Thus, in national elections – in contrast to regional ones – individuals who feel only or more Catalan/Quebecer than Spanish/Canadian have a lower propensity to consider the vote as a civic duty than their counterparts (dual-identity individuals and the ones who feel only Spanish/Canadian or more Spanish/Canadian than Catalan/Quebecer). Additionally, while the impact of heterogeneity on voter turnout in Quebec is mainly direct, in Catalonia it is indirect through civic duty (see Figure 2). These mixed results concerning the direct and indirect effect of heterogeneity on turnout suggest that further research should take into account the role played by the specific context in which elections are held.

Figure 1: The impact of ethnic and linguistic fractionalisation on turnout

*The upper and lower lines show the 95% interval of confidence

Figure 2: Expected civic duty and voter turnout in Catalonia and Quebec


The composition of societies makes a difference for civic and turnout. We show that those relatively more averse to mixing with others who are different to themselves have a lower propensity to vote and are less likely to construe voting as a civic duty when they belong to the minority group.


For more information, see Lago, Ignacio, Sandra Bermúdez, Marc Guinjoan, and Pablo Simón. “Turnout and Social Fractionalisation.Politics, DOI: 10.1177/0263395716686598.

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Voting for two different parties in mixed-member systems  

By Pedro Riera (University Carlos III, Madrid), and Damien Bol (King’s College London).

What is the story?

In some countries, voters have two votes: (1) a ‘candidate vote’ usually in a single-member district like in the UK, and (2) a ‘party-list vote’ in a multi-member district like in Spain. These are called mixed-member systems.

A remarkable increasing number of democracies around the world have adopted a mixed-member system in the last twenty-five years. They represent a good compromise between majoritarian and proportional representation systems. Emblematic examples include Germany, New Zealand, and Japan.

A substantial portion of voters use these two votes to support different parties. This is typically referred to as a split-ticket. In a recently published paper, we look at this intuitively-odd behavior, and show that even a very subtle difference in the electoral system can have important consequences for vote choice.


There are two types of mixed-member system. In the first type, called MMP for mixed-member proportional, there is a linkage between the allocation of seats across tiers. The system works in two steps. First, the single-member votes are counted and transformed into seats. Then, some extra seats are allocated to parties, so that the final seat share of each party corresponds to its proportional representation vote share. In other words, proportional representation votes are used to compensate single-member district votes.

In the second type, called MMM for mixed-member majoritarian, there is no linkage between the tiers. Everything works just as if there were two elections organized in parallel: one in single-member districts, and the other under proportional representation.

Our argument is that the type of mixed-system should influence the propensity to cast a split-ticket. In MMP, voters should not care about which party is elected in single-member districts. Regardless of which party is elected, the proportional representation votes will compensate. In other words, single-member district votes have no effect on the final seat share of the parties.

Voters should thus feel to vote for another party than their favorite one in the single-member districts of MMP systems. This vote will not influence the overall success of their favorite party. But this is not the case in MMM systems where both votes count. Thus, split-tickets votes should be more likely in MMP than in MMM.


To test this hypothesis, we gathered survey data across the four available waves of the Comparative Study of Electoral System Project. We also added all the survey data we could find for countries using mixed-member systems. In total, our data is covering 18 mixed-member elections in 7 countries/regions.

In each of these surveys, respondents were asked about their two votes for the latest election.
We consider that they are split-ticket voters if the single-member district vote is different from the proportional representation vote. Table 1 shows the proportion of split-ticket votes in our data. We observe that there are many more split-ticket votes in MMP elections than in MMM elections. The difference is about 15 percentage points.

In the paper, we estimate a series of regressions in which we show that this difference is robust to the inclusion of many controls variables (socio-demographics, incentives to cast a strategic vote, democratic background of the country…) and many specifications (including the exclusion of some countries from the dataset).



With our paper, we would like to argue that it is important to study the intricacies of electoral systems to examine their impact on voting behavior and elections. More importantly, it is crucial to consider even the smallest detail of electoral systems. A difference that many might see as anecdotal, such as the existence of seat-linkage in mixed-member systems, can have important consequences for vote choice

For more details, see Pedro Riera and Damien Bol. 2017. >Ticket-splitting in Mixed-member Systems: On the Importance of Seat Linkage Between Electoral Tiers. West European Politics 40(3): 584-597.

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Party Mobilization and Electoral Systems

 By Ignacio Lago (Universitat Pompeu Fabra) & al. 

Research question

Electoral systems scholarship has extensively researched how electoral systems affect voting and parties’ entry decisions. However, we have almost no insight into how electoral systems shape the strategies adopted by political parties in election campaigns. The goal of our study is to explore how district magnitude and the number of districts shape campaign strategies.


When there is a single nationwide district, the payoff in seats of any given increment of votes as a consequence of mobilisation efforts is the same everywhere. Accordingly, both large and small parties will invest more heavily in the most populated areas/provinces given that they can win more votes there. When using a districted electoral system, party mobilisation will be driven less by (district-level) population (i.e., district magnitude) as the rate at which a mobilising party gains seats when it gains more votes differs across districts. But this logic only applies to large parties which face incentives to mobilise everywhere. Given that small parties only have good chances of winning a seat in those districts allocating a high number of seats, they will continue investing their resources in the most populated areas.

Second, as parties exert mobilizational effort the higher the probability of that effort being decisive, small national parties will target densely populated areas regardless of the electoral system. On the contrary, large parties’ mobilizational effort will be more driven by population when using a single national district than in a districted electoral system.


The hypotheses are examined through a quantitative analysis of party mobilisation in the 2009 European election and the 2011 Lower House election in Spain. The 50 Spanish European MPs are elected in a single nationwide district, while the 350 members of the Lower House are elected in 52 districts in which magnitude ranges from 1 to 36. The analysis is focused on three national parties, the two largest, the Socialist Party (PSOE), the Popular Party (PP), and a small one, Union, Progress and Democracy (UPyD). The dependent variable is the number of visits to each district made by the candidate that topped the list in the 2009 European election and the candidate that topped the list put out by the district of Madrid in the 2011 Lower House election. We also use qualitative data collected through a series of semi-structured face to face interviews with members of the campaign teams of the three parties.


We found that varying district magnitudes create different incentives for campaigning. This effect on parties is not universal: smaller parties always target population size or districts with the highest number of seats to be awarded, where their chances of winning are much greater. We find that larger parties alter their strategies depending on the number of districts, mainly by targeting populous provinces in an electoral system with a single national district. When there are multiple districts, large parties will visit more provinces than when there is only one district.

Figure 1. Frequency of visits to each province in the 2009 European election

Figure 1. Frequency of visits to each province in the 2009 European election

Figure 2. Frequency of visits to each province in the 2011 Lower House election

Figure 2. Frequency of visits to each province in the 2011 Lower House election


We show that there is not always a change in party mobilisation strategies when there is a change in the payoff of votes to seats. The effect of district magnitude and the number of districts on party mobilisation strategies depends on the size of the political party.

For more information, see:

Lago, Ignacio, Sandra Bermúdez, Marc Guinjoan, Kelly Rowe, and Pablo Simón. “Party Mobilization and Electoral Systems.” Government and Opposition, January 2017, 1–24. doi:10.1017/gov.2016.46.


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Anti-Elite and Anti-Corruption Appeals of European Political Parties

By The CHES Team 

What is the story?

While democratic institutions are currently being subverted by populists both in Hungary and Poland, the 5 Star Movement and the National Front are leading the polls in France and Italy respectively, and the Brits opted for a “hard Brexit” after a clearly anti-elite referendum campaign. These are just a few examples of how anti-establishment sentiments, typically depicting the existing political system as broken, and politicians as corrupt, are gaining prominence across the European continent.

In a recent article published in Research and Politics, we tackle this issue, and study the variation of anti-elite and anti-corruption salience in party positioning in European democracies. We show that whereas the salience of anti-elite appeals varies mostly as a function of party ideology, the salience of political corruption depends mostly on the country’s quality of government. Simultaneously, we introduce the most recent 2014 round of the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES), which is the longest-running expert survey on party positioning in European democracies.


Although some may intuitively assume that anti-elite and anti-corruption political messages are conceptually closely related, we expect that they function according to divergent logics.

Populist anti-elite stances are likely to be associated with ideological extremism. We differentiate two classical ideological axes: economic left-right, and placement on the socio-cultural (GAL-TAN) dimension, which spans from social liberalism to social conservatism. Left-wing extremists tend to stress economic issues, whereas right-wing extremists tend to emphasize their authoritarian and nationalist appeals. Both extremes, the economic left and the cultural right, should be more inclined to criticize the political establishment (in much the same way as they have opposed European integration).

Hypothesis 1: Parties of either the economic left or the socio-cultural right are more likely to emphasize anti-elite, anti-establishment rhetoric.

As regards anti-corruption appeals, they are less likely to be related to ideology. While populists often denounce the alleged corruption of career politicians, a call to reduce political corruption alone does not make a party populist. Instead, anti-corruption appeals are likely to be driven by the prevalence of corrupt practices. The more they are seen as widespread, the more this issue will be salient to voters and, thus, to parties.

Hypothesis 2: Parties in countries with high levels of political corruption are more likely to stress the importance of reducing political corruption.

Data and Methods

To test our hypotheses, we use the data from the 2014 wave of the Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) available at Administered in 2014 to 337 political scientists specializing in political parties and European integration, the 2014 CHES, this data provides information about the positioning of 268 parties on political ideology, European integration, and various policy areas. The survey covers political parties in 31 countries, including all European Union member states, plus Norway, Switzerland and Turkey. In addition, the 2014 survey has been combined with prior waves to produce a trend file with five time points from 1999 to 2014, making the CHES the longest-running, most extensive expert survey on political parties in Europe.

The dependent variables in our research correspond to two newly included questions about the “salience of anti-establishment and anti-elite rhetoric” and the “salience of reducing political corruption” for the political parties of Europe. All experts were asked to provide salience scores for all parties in a given party system on these two questions; responses could range from 0 (not at all important) to 10 (very important).

We employ a multi-level regression analysis of the two variables. The predictors at the party-level are economic (left-right) and social (GAL-TAN) placement of political parties (we add also their quadratic terms to allow for curvilinear relationships), party age and incumbency. At the country-level, we include the quality of democracy using the Group’s International Country Risk Guide (ICRG) from the Quality of Government Dataset.


The results of the multi-level analysis are presented graphically in Figures 1 and 2. In conformity with our hypotheses, anti-elite salience is strongly associated with ideological extremes (the economic left and the socio-cultural right, see Figure 1). In contrast, anti-corruption salience varies as a function of quality of government, but it is practically unrelated to ideology (see Figure 2). In addition, both anti-elite and anti-corruption salience tend to be higher among more recent parties and parties outside the government (results not shown in Figures 1 and 2).

Figure 1 Predicted anti-elite salience

Predicted anti-elite salience

Figure 2 Predicted anti-corruption salience

Predicted anti-corruption salience



This research provides a meaningful contribution to a better understanding of party competition in Europe. It unveils a contrasting logic in the functioning of two types of similar party appeals. While anti-elite salience primarily depends on parties’ ideology, anti-corruption salience reflects the environment in which parties operate.

More generally, the anti-elite and anti-corruption questions, newly included in 2014, supplement core items in the CHES that have now been collected over five time points, making the dataset an increasingly useful source of information for dynamic analysis of party positioning across Europe.

For more information, see:

Polk, Jonathan, Jan Rovny, Ryan Bakker, Erica Edwards, Liesbet Hooghe, Seth Jolly, Jelle Koedam, Filip Kostelka, Gary Marks, Gijs Schumacher, Marco Steenbergen, Milada Vachudova and Marko Zilovic (2017). Explaining the salience of anti-elitism and reducing political corruption for political parties in Europe with the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey data. Research & Politics 4 (1): 1-9. doi: 10.1177/2053168016686915. Available also here as an open-access PDF .


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« Negative » personalization: party leaders and party strategy


Scott Pruysers, University of Calgary
William Cross, Carleton University

The Story

Political parties are increasingly going negative in their campaign advertising and electoral messaging. At the same time, party leaders and candidates are becoming increasingly relevant to considerations of vote choice and to the electoral success of political parties. There is an increasing trend in recent decades towards more candidate-centered politics, individualized local campaigns and a personalization of politics more generally. These trends point to changing electoral and political norms in which the centrality of individual actors has increased while emphasis on the political party has declined. In this sense, we are particularly interested in the targets of negative campaigning, especially from the perspective of personalization. Is it opposing political parties or their leaders who are targeted in routine election campaign communication? Our central contribution is an examination of the inter-party dynamics of campaign personalization and the development of a new concept: negative personalization. We define negative personalization as an emphasis on opposing party leaders in campaign communication more so than on the parties that they lead. In adopting this approach we question whether parties play a role in personalization by negatively personalizing their opponents. In particular, we hypothesize that negative campaign personalization is a common feature of election campaigns and that this negativity is targeted at unpopular leaders more so than popular ones.

The Data

Drawing on data from two recent elections (2011 and 2014) in the province of Ontario, Canada’s largest province, we provide a preliminary empirical look at the dynamics of negative personalization in election campaign material. We do so by examining 53 television advertisements as well as more than 350 party press releases in order to gauge the target of negative party messaging. Additionally, we take a closer look at the campaign dynamics that shaped negative personalization during the 2011 and 2014 Ontario provincial elections.

The Results

First, we provide compelling – albeit preliminary – evidence to demonstrate that negative personalization is a common feature of contemporary election campaigns. Parties routinely attack opposing party leaders in addition to the parties that they lead. In fact, our analysis of the 2011 and 2014 provincial elections in Ontario demonstrate that both television advertisements and press releases are significantly more likely to mention an opposing party leader than an opposing party. This is particularly evident in television advertising where more than half of all campaign ads targeted an opposing party leader compared to only 15% that mentioned an opposing party. The predominance of negative personalization in television advertising is consistent with the broader personalization literature, which has noted the ease with which leaders, or opposing leaders in our case, can be pictured on screen and the impact that these images can have on voter perceptions.

Second, we find clear evidence that negative personalization is indeed a calculated decision. Parties make strategic use of their campaign messaging and in this regard attack their opponents where they are the weakest: party leaders who are popular experience the least negative personalization while relatively unpopular leaders experience the most. This helps to explain why the New Democrat leader escaped negative personalization in 2011 and 2014 while the PC leader did not. It also explains why the Liberal leader was subject to more negative personalization in 2011 than his more popular successor in 2014. Furthermore, an examination of the dynamics of negative personalization over the course of the 2014 Ontario election campaign reveals that the Progressive Conservative strategy responded to shifting public opinion and targeted the Liberal leader the most when her approval was lowest.


While the conclusions presented here need to be tested in other cases before they can be generalized beyond this particular analysis, this note does offer the first theoretical and empirical look at the concept of negative personalization as well as provide suggestions for future research.




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Call for Papers: Pre-APSA MEDW Workshop, San Francisco, August 30, 2017

André Blais, University of Montreal
Filip Kostelka, University of Montreal

The Event
The Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW)  project calls for papers to be presented at a workshop held on August 30, just before the 2017 American Political Science Association (APSA) annual meeting in San Francisco. Proposed papers should deal with the core research themes of the project, which examines how the rules of the game (especially the electoral system) and the electoral context influence the dynamic and reciprocal relationship between voters and parties in democracies. Among other topics, we welcome papers on voter turnout, political participation, vote choice, party competition and evaluations of democratic performance. We will consider with interest all submitted proposals but papers using the MEDW data will be given priority.

How to apply
Send an abstract of not more than 5000 characters with a title (no more than 80 characters), your name and institutional affiliation to (with in copy) by January 5, 2017.

How to access the MEDW data
The MEDW include pre- and post-electoral surveys from 27 elections held at different levels of government in 5 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland) and in 10 regions (Ontario, Quebec, le de France, Provence, Bavaria, Lower Saxony, Catalonia, Madrid, Lucerne and Zürich). For more details, see the codebooks and questionnaires available here. The data are available upon request to André Blais ( Requests should include an abstract for the proposed study.

For further information on the workshop, do not hesitate to contact Filip Kostelka ( The PDF version of this call for papers is available here.

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“Who is the best football player?” Researchers ask football fans


On December 13, France Football will announce the best performing football player of 2016.  Researchers from the Making Electoral Democracy Work (MEDW) project and our international collaborators would like to learn about football fans. To this end, we are holding a simultaneous vote using three different voting systems.

Who should be, according to football fans, the best football player of the year? In addition to answering this question, this project will contribute to our knowledge of voting behaviour, and football in general.

Everyone is invited to participate here. The survey is available in six languages (English, French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish). Please share this survey with your friends across the globe and help both your favourite football player and science.

For more information, see:


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Voter Turnout & Emigration: What Affects Transnational Electoral Participation?

Filip Kostelka, Université de Montréal & Sciences Po, Paris

What is the story?

Migration flows to, but also within, developed democracies have kept intensifying since the end of the Cold War. Consequently, relatively large segments of democratic electorates currently live abroad. This raises the question of emigrants’ engagement in their motherlands’ politics.

In a recent article published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, I tackle the topic of transnational electoral participation that results from emigration. My objective is to show how transnational voting rates differ from the domestic rates (i.e. the voting rate in the sending country), what specific factors affect emigrants’ turnout, and, more generally, what implications emigration has for nationwide turnout in the sending countries.


The literature on political behaviour mostly focuses on migrants’ electoral participation in the receiving country (i.e. the effect of immigration). In contrast, migrants’ participation in the elections of the sending country (i.e. the effect of emigration) has so far been, to a large extent, an uncharted territory. Drawing on the literature on domestic residential mobility (i.e. mobility within a single country), I expect that:

  1. Transnational voting rates are much lower than domestic ones as emigration increases the costs and reduces the benefits of the voting act.

With regards to the factors that affect transitional voting rates, I hypothesize that:

  1. The less burdensome the procedures for voting abroad, the higher the transnational voting rate.
  1. The larger the size of the diaspora, the higher the transnational voting rate (but the lower the overall voting rate).

This last hypothesis is motivated by the fact that large diasporas mean large pools of potential votes and a stronger motivation for political parties to go campaigning abroad and mobilize emigrants (see this news report covering a spectacular transnational campaign event held in 2007 for Romanians in Spain). At the same time, large diasporas mean a large number of voters for whom voting is costlier and less beneficial when compared to voters who stayed back home. I expect that transnational voting rates will never reach the level of domestic voting rates and, therefore, although a rise in the number of emigrants will lead to higher transnational voting rates, it will however also further reduce the overall (i.e. nationwide) voter turnout.

The empirical case: 10 post-communist democracies 

To test my hypotheses, I study legislative elections in ten Central and East European democracies (CEE-10) between 1990s and 2012. As Figure 1 shows, the number of CEE-10 citizens living abroad strongly increased especially after 2000. Nevertheless, voter registration was automatic and for life in all ten countries (note that this has recently changed in Bulgaria, see p. 6 in this OSCE report). Therefore, emigrants kept the right to vote and were counted in the overall voter turnout rates as long as they maintained the citizenship.

Figure 1 The Evolution of the Number of Emigrants from the CEE-10


My empirical analyses corroborate Hypothesis 1. Transnational voting rates, measured as the number of votes case abroad divided by the number of emigrants, are much lower than domestic voter rates. After 2000, they never exceeded 32.1 % (Slovenia’s legislative election of 2008). This means that the growing emigration depresses the nationwide voting rates in the CEE-10. Actually, in those countries, nationwide voter turnout fell dramatically in the first two democratic decades (by 25.1 percentage points, see also this article). According to my estimates, emigration accounts for almost 10 % of this fall (2.1 pp).

Hypotheses 2 and 3 are also validated. In some of the CEE-10, citizens need to (re)register to vote from abroad. According to my models, which control for domestic turnout and other factors, each extra day that separate the registration deadline from the actual election, reduces transnational turnout by 0.1 percentage points. Conversely, diaspora size exerts the expected positive effect. Every increase in the number of voters abroad (as a percentage of the total electorate), boosts transnational voter turnout by 0.7 percentage points.

Figure 2 Factors Affecting Transnational Voting Rates (regression coefficients)

Factors Affecting Transnational Voting Rates (regression coefficients)


This study demonstrates that emigration is an increasingly salient factor for understanding voter turnout variation over time and across countries. Its findings are not of interest only to researchers who study electoral participation but also to policy-makers in the CEE-10 and elsewhere who are concerned by declining voting rates. Transnational electoral participation by emigrants specifically depends on legal provisions for external voting and diaspora size. The former factor is fully at the reach of legislators.

For more information, see:

Kostelka, Filip (2016). Distant souls: post-communist emigration and voter turnout. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2016.1227696



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