Zooming in on the ‘Europeanisation’ of national politics: A comparative analysis of six EU countries
From Firenze University Press Journal: Italian Journal of Electoral Studies (IJES)
Mariano Torcal, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Toni Rodón, Universitat Pompeu Fabra
What is the effect of individual positioning on the EU integration dimension of vote choice? Does this dimension shape vote choice both in the EU and national elections, or are its effects only present for the supranational elections? Scholars have examined whether the EU is a salient dimension in individual vote choice ever since the first elections for the European Parliament (EP). Yet, and despite a significant number of empirical contributions, the question remains not fully and satisfactory answered. The lack of a definitive answer is partly explained by the changing nature of the European project, which forces scholars to continue revisiting their theoretical and empirical expectations. Thus, the study of the effect of the EU issues on vote choice has been frequently framed using the second-order elections (SOE) model.
This framing posits that European elections have been less relevant to the electorate because, together with other factors, the issue at stake, Europe, does not matter to voters (Schmitt and Toygür 2016). Yet this understanding has traditionally coexisted with several studies showing that, under some circumstances, Euro-pean issues matter (Ferrara and Weishaupt 2004; Reif 1984; van der Eijk 1996). However, no overall conclusion was reached and many scholars still concluded that the EU dimension did not matter or was largely irrelevant (Hix and Marsh 2007). Over the last few years, this debate has once again gained momentum by the contributions of an important and growing literature on the politicisation of Europe. More concretely these contributions have started to show that European issues are increasingly present in national public opinion, gaining space in people’s discussions and interests, and structuring national political competition (Spanje and Vreese 2011; Wilde and Lord, 2016; Ares et al., 2016; Hooghe and Marks 2018). There are contributions pointing at that direction such the one by Hobolt et al. (2008) showing that voters defect from governing parties because the government is generally far more pro-European than they are. Similarly, Hobolt and Wittrock (2011) concluded that while voters base their EP vote choices primarily on domestic preferences, those having additional information about the European integration dimension are also more likely to vote on this basis.
As Hernández and Kriesi (2015) more recently pointed out the so-called ‘Europeanisation of National Politics’ is gaining traction among specialists. However, despite all these significant contributions, the empirical evidence is still inconclusive, especially when it comes to comparing the micro-level explana-tions of party support behind this process.There have certainly been several empirical attempts to show how ‘Europe matters’ in national elections (Gabel 2002; de Vries 2007), but the literature has yet to fully explore the effect of individual positioning on the EU dimension vis-à-vis that of the traditional left–right dimension which traditionally has been driving the competition at the national arena. In other words, there is still missing a conclusive and comprehensive cross-national study com-paring the effects at the individual level of both dimensions of party competition for both types of elections (for an exception see van der Eijk and Franklin 2004). This article aims at extending previous literature by revisiting the (relative) effect of individual positioning on the EU integration dimension of vote choice across different European countries using a unique panel data-set, the European Election Study (EES) 2014 survey panel that includes two waves in seven then-EU member states: Germany, Italy, Spain, Poland, Sweden, the Unit-ed Kingdom and Greece.
One of the waves took place as part of the 2014 European post-electoral survey and the other as part of a national post-electoral survey of the same seven countries. This dataset allows, for these two types of elections, an assessment of the significance and magnitude of the EU integration dimension vis-à-vis the left–right dimension, the other dimension against which the EU dimension is usually compared for both elections and for the same set of respondents. Crucially, we also extend this analysis to examining whether the EU dimension equally matters for the electoral support of all parties in the party system.Our empirical analysis proceeds in two steps. In the first part, we analyse whether the European dimension drives people’s vote in all seven EU countries. If the process of Europeanisation referred to by the literature is taking place, we should observe that individual positioning on the European dimension shapes people’s vote choice, with its effects being similar to that of the left-right dimension. Our results show that individual positioning on the dimension has an effect on vote choice in all seven countries under analysis and it shapes people’s political behaviour not only in European elections but also in national elections to a quite similar degree. Yet the effect of the European dimension is still much small-er than that of the left–right dimension.
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