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Political Science in Europe

Potent Executives: The Electoral Strength of Prime Ministers in Central Eastern Europe

Europe (Central and Eastern)
Comparative Politics
Voting Behaviour
Jan Berz
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg
Jan Berz
Leuphana Universität Lüneburg

Prime ministers in Central Eastern Europe (CEE) are commonly perceived to be weaker and less `presidential' than their Western European colleagues. This assessment relies on their comparatively shorter survival in office. In contrast I argue that the post-communist legacy of CEE provides a more favourable context for prime ministers to develop a central characteristic of 'presidential' prime ministers: A strong personal influence on voting behaviour in parliamentary elections, which provides prime ministers with the opportunity to gain autonomy within their party and cabinet. I theorise that the societal dealignment, as well as the comparatively higher elite influence over the media, provide prime ministers in CEE with greater electoral potential than their Western European counterparts. I study the leader effect of prime ministers across European countries to test this hypothesis using CSES data. I find that prime ministers in CEE have a stronger influence on vote choice than West European prime ministers. This presents a puzzle since prime ministers in CEE seem unable to use their comparatively higher electoral strength to secure their position in office. I discuss the implications of my findings for the presidentialization thesis and the measurement of prime minister's performance.
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