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Don’t Forget the Supply Side: Dissatisfaction, Volatility, and the Anti-Establishment Vote

Political Parties
Populism
Voting
Electoral Behaviour
Remko Voogd
University of Amsterdam
Ruth Dassonneville
Université de Montréal
Remko Voogd
University of Amsterdam
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Abstract

This paper connects three very pronounced development that have been taking place in most Western Democracies over the last decades: ‘increasing distrust in political actors’, ‘rising electoral volatility’ and ‘growing support for anti-establishment parties’. Empirically it has been observed that political disaffection motivates voters to increasingly start to switch their voting choices (Zelle 1995). At the same time, those dissatisfied voters are also said to be the most likely voters of anti-establishment parties in whom they find a voice against the established political forces whom they distrust (Dalton and Weldon 2005; Mair 2013). The popular conception is thus that citizens with the highest levels of political disaffection are the most volatile and also that those citizens are the most likely to vote for (and switch towards) an anti-establishment party. While there is some general evidence for both propositions on the individual level, I argue that they might also be contradictory under certain supply side conditions. When dissatisfied voters are not offered any viable anti-establishment party alternative, the second proposition will clearly not hold. But more interestingly, when dissatisfied voters are offered only one viable anti-establishment party alternative during a number of consecutive elections the first proposition may not hold when the second is true. When dissatisfied voters have only one real alternative, they will most likely vote stably for this anti-establishment party, and thus not be volatile voters. Only with more than one anti-establishment party offered at the supply-side, it becomes more likely that the two propositions equally hold at the same moment. With supply side influences on the sketched individual-level relationships never considered before, this paper will contribute to the literature by assessing whether the supposed linkages between political disaffection, party-switching and anti-establishment party support simultaneously exist under different supply side conditions. A central question is whether vote shifting among the political disaffected is reduced when only one anti-establishment party is the viable alternative for voters who are dissatisfied. This condition might turn dissatisfied voters into stable voters. Additionally it will be tested how government participation of anti-establishment parties influences vote switching of the political dissatisfied. Government participation has been argued to provide a strong burden upon anti-establishment party support as they lose the purity of their message (Van Spanje 2011) and might consequently be expected to be a major reason to start switching to another party again. Multilevel modelling will be used to test the central expectations. Individual-level data on political trust will be obtained from the three most recent modules of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES), which covers a wide range of elections from 2001 to 2016 in a large subset of Western Democracies. At the election-level, I classify political parties as anti-political-establishment parties based on the authoritative categorization by Abedi (2002: 2004).