Punishment or Protest? Understanding European Parliament Elections


Simon Hix is professor of European and comparative politics, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, United Kingdom, WC2A 2AE. Michael Marsh is associate professor of political science, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland.


After six sets of European Parliament elections, do voters primarily use these elections to punish their national governments or to express their views on European issues? We answer this question by looking at all European elections (1979–2004) in all 25 EU states. We find that almost 40% of the volatility in party vote-shares in European elections compared to national elections is explained by the transfer of votes from large and governing parties to small and opposition parties. Nevertheless, anti-EU parties and green parties on average do better in European elections than in national elections. But these “European effects” are minor, and the position a party takes on Europe is largely irrelevant to its performance. Hence, despite the growing powers of the European Parliament, neither positions on matters regarding European integration, nor on matters regarding “normal” left-right policy, have much of an effect on electoral outcomes.