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Second-order Election Model – what we know

Aktualisiert: 3. Mai 2020

For my master thesis at Maastricht University I am analysing the European Parliament election 2014 in Germany. In this article I give a brief summary of what we know so far about the second-order election model.

In European Parliament elections the following patters have been observed since the first election in 1979 (Simon Hix and Michael Marsh 2011). Compared to the national parliamentary election:

  1. the turnout is considerably lower

  2. big parties, especially in government, lose

  3. small parties win

  4. national arena topics dominate the campaigns.

Voters vote sincerly and in protest (Hobolt, 2012). That means some citizens vote for the party that best reflects their believes, others want to punish the government. Citizens vote more according to issues on the national political arena but the better informed they are informed (Hobolt, 2011) and the higher the party polarisation on EU integration (Hobolt, 2012) the more important EU arena considerations become. Voting however, is a social habit – especially in EU elections (Franklin, 2010). As the pressure to vote in EU elections is so little those, whose first election is a European one, are later less likely to vote in any other election.

Parties avoid to talk about important EU issues in campaigns, especially the major pro-European ones. This leads to a boring, un-polarised election campaign and thus equals a demobilisation (Weber, 2007). Major parties spend far less for the European elections than they do for the national ones (Petithomme, 2012). The party manifestos actually provide a European frame and discuss EU issues to some degree (Wüst, 2009) – but who reads them? Parties are crucial on shaping electoral choices (Hobolt, 2012). In Germany parties manage to reduce the non-voter share via campaigning in national elections. They fail to do so in European elections (Wüst, 2005).

Journalists cover the European Parliamentary elections better if there is disagreement on EU integration (Schuck, 2011).

Here is the literature I have found so far on the second-order election model:

de Vreese, Claes H. (2009). Second-Rate Election Campaigning? An Analysis of Campaign Styles in European Parliamentary Elections. Journal of Political Marketing, 8(1), 7-19. doi: 10.1080/15377850802603424

EP. (2014). The 2014 European Elections: This time it’s different.   Retrieved March 21, 2014, from

Franklin, Mark N., & Hobolt, Sara B. (2011). The legacy of lethargy: How elections to the European Parliament depress turnout. Electoral Studies, 30(1), 67-76. doi:

Giebler, Heiko, & Wüst, Andreas M. (2011). Campaigning on an upper level? Individual campaigning in the 2009 European Parliament elections in its determinants. Electoral Studies, 30, 53-66.

Hix, Simon, & Marsh, Michael. (2011). Second-order effects plus pan-European swings: An analysis of European Parliament across time. Electoral Studies, 30, 4-15.

Hobolt, Sara B., & Spoon, Jae-Jae. (2012). Motivating the European voter: Parties, issues and campaigns in European Parliament elections. European Journal of Political Research, 51(6), 701-727. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.2012.02057.x

Hobolt, Sara Binzer, & Wittrock, Jill. (2011). The second-order election model revisited: An experimental test of vote choices in European Parliament elections. Electoral Studies, 30(1), 29-40. doi:

Marsh, Michael, & Mikhaylov, Slava. (2010). European Parliament elections and EU governance. Living Reviews in European Governance, 5(4).

Petithomme, Matthieu. (2012). Second-order elections, but also ‘low-cost’ campaigns? National parties and campaign spending in European elections: a comperative analysis. Perspectives on European Politics and Society, 13(2), 149-168.

Reif, Karlheinz, & Schmitt, Hermann. (1980). NINE SECOND-ORDER NATIONAL ELECTIONS – A CONCEPTUAL FRAMEWORK FOR THE ANALYSIS OF EUROPEAN ELECTION RESULTS. European Journal of Political Research, 8(1), 3-44. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.1980.tb00737.x

Schuck, Andreas R.T., Xezonakis, Georgios, Elenbaas, Matthijs, Banducci, Susan A., & de Vreese, Claes H. (2011). Party contestation and Europe on the news agenda: The 2009 European Parliamentary Elections. Electoral Studies, 30, 41-52.

Weber, Till. (2007). Campaign Effects and Second-Order Cycles: A Top-Down Approach to European Parliament Elections. European Union Politics, 8(4), 509-536. doi: 10.1177/1465116507082812

Wüst, Andreas M. (2009). Parties in European Parliament Elections: Issues, Framing, the EU, and the Question of Supply and Demand. German Politics, 18(3), 426-440. doi: 10.1080/09644000903055849

Wüst, Andreas M., & Roth, Dieter. (2005). Parteien, Programme und Wahlverhalten. In Jens Tenscher (Ed.), Wahl-Kampf um Europa: Analysen aus Anlass der Wahlen zum Europäischen Parlament 2004 (pp. 56-85). Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

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