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Strategic Voting and the EU Parliamentary Elections

- June 5, 2009


Taking up “Andrew’s challenge”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/06/a_bluffers_guide_to_the_what.html of why anyone “over here” might care about the EU Parliamentary Elections, I’ll throw out those who are interested in the phenomenon of strategic voting. For those outside of the academy, political scientists use the phrase “strategic voting”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tactical_voting to refer to instances when voters do not necessarily vote for their top choice to win an election (which is known, by contrast, as sincere voting) because they care about something other than simply if their candidate wins the election. The most commonly described form of strategic voting is when a voter knows that his or her preferred candidate is not going to win the election, and so in order “not to waste a vote”, the voter uses his or her vote to choose between the two candidates who are most likely to win the election; this type of strategic voting is most clearly laid out in Gary Cox’s “Making Votes Count”:http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=0521585163.

There are, however, other forms of strategic voting. In an article we published in _The Journal of Politics_ in 2007 entitled “Run Boris Run: Strategic Voting in Sequential Elections”:http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jat7/Meirowitz_Tucker_2007.pdf, “Adam Meirowitz”:http://www.princeton.edu/~ameirowi/ and I suggested that another form of strategic voting might occur if (1) voters valued sending information to parties/candidates and (2) there were multiple elections in which voters could participate, some of which were for more important institutions than others. The basic argument is then that if the vote for a less important institution precedes the vote for a more important institution, then this type of “send a message strategic voting” might lead to voters who would normally vote for mainstream parties (and especially the incumbent party) to instead cast a vote for smaller, and potentially more extremist, party. (Those interested in the formalization of this argument are invited to explore our logic “here”:http://homepages.nyu.edu/~jat7/Meirowitz_Tucker_2007.pdf).

Which bring us back to the European Parliamentary elections. At the end of the paper, we suggested that a perfect example of a less important / more important sequence of elections would be elections for the European Parliament that preceded elections for a given national parliament, for exactly the reasons that Henry laid out in his “original post on the topic”:https://themonkeycage.org/2009/06/a_bluffers_guide_to_the_europe.html. So to the extent that EU parliamentary elections truly are “2nd order” national elections, our model of strategic voting would predict that the EU parliamentary election results would not simply mimic national trends, but would also present an opportunity for dissatisfied supporters of the main stream parties, and in particular the incumbent party, to “send a message” to their party by voting for a non main stream party in a context where it doesn’t matter all that much.

[For those that are really interested in these sorts of things, our model would also predict that such behavior would be more likely when there is a national election sometime in the near to mid-range future, as opposed to in cases where national elections are not expected for years. Recall that the key trade-off is the cost of voting for a party to represent you that is not your preferred party vs. sending a message of dissatisfaction to your preferred party. It is the specter of the forthcoming election that gives your preferred party the incentive to respond to your message by improving its performance. The longer the time before that next election, the less value there is to giving up your vote now to send the message. Of course, one could argue that in these unsettled economic times most EU countries (which are parliamentary systems for the most part) could end up having new elections sooner than expected, so if there was ever a time to expect to see “send a message strategic voting” across the board in EU parliamentary elections, now might be it.]