Which election matters most (least)?

By Simon Labbé-St-Vincent, University of Montreal

What is the story?

Modern democracies are typically composed of several levels of governments. Elections at higher government levels (supranational or national elections) are sometimes considered more important than regional or municipal elections since they involve more voters, and since the governments usually have larger budgets. An alternative hypothesis is that local and regional elections are more important since local and regional government deal with issues that are closer to the daily lives of voters. In this entry, I compare the importance voters give to elections across government levels in the six countries covered by the MEDW survey data.

The surveys

Within the MEDW project, we are conducting (regionally-based) pre- and post-election panel surveys in 6 countries: Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland. Our surveys cover elections at supranational (European), national (federal), regional (cantonal, provincial, state) and local (municipal) government levels (Table 1 presents the samples that have been surveyed to date). In each of them, we ask respondents to rate the importance of elections at these 4 government levels on a 0 to 10 scale; 0 meaning the election is ‘not important at all’, and 10 that it is ‘extremely important’.

Country Election Region N
Belgium 2014 Regional-National-European Brussels 688
Flanders 944
Wallonia 932
Canada 2011 Provincial Ontario 1,266
2012 Provincial Quebec 957
France 2012 Legislative Ile-de-France 919
Provence 958
2014 Municipal Marseille 691
Paris 1,162
2014 European Ile-de-France 929
Provence 999
Germany 2013-2104 State-Federal-European Bavaria 5,651
2013 State Lower Saxony 927
2013 Federal Lower Saxony 931
2014 European Lower Saxony 930
Spain 2011 National Catalonia 926
Madrid 962
2012 Regional Catalonia 973
2014 European Catalonia 955
Madrid 950
2011 Cantonal Lucerne 1,202
Zurich 1,155
2011 Federal Lucerne 1,088
Zurich 1,037
Table 1: List of MEDW survey samples

Importance of elections across government levels

In Figure 1, I show the mean importance voters give to elections by government level and by country. On average, European elections are rated at 5.3 (n=21,431, excluding Canada and Switzerland), national elections at 7.3 (n=28,254), regional elections at 7.0 (n=22,576, excluding France) and municipal elections at 7.0 (n=24,427). I thus find some support for the hypothesis that the higher the election level, the higher the perceived importance. However, the difference between national and regional/municipal (7.3 versus 7.0) is remarkably small. Moreover, there is one major exception: the European elections are considered as the least important elections (and this is true in all 3 European countries covered).

A couple of final observations. First, in the five federal countries (all but France), national and regional elections are equally important. Second, in four out of six countries (except Canada and Spain), local elections are as important as national elections. The MEDW data provide a golden opportunity to understand why some citizens, in some regions/countries, perceive some levels of elections to be more/less important than others.

Figure 1: Importance of elections at different levels (means)

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