Exit, Voice, and Cyclicality: A Micrologic of Midterm Effects in European Parliament Elections


  • I wish to thank Mark Franklin, Jeffrey Milyo, Marco Steenbergen, Henry Thomson, Alexander Trechsel, Kristjan Vassil, Bernhard Wessels, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the 2008 EPOP meeting, the 2009 MPSA meeting, the 2009 EUSA meeting, and in the EUI seminar on Electoral Behavior. Replication data are available from http://www.eui.eu/Personal/Researchers/Weber.

Till Weber is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political & Social Sciences, European University Institute, Via dei Roccettini 9, 50014 San Domenico di Fiesole, Florence, Italy (till.weber@eui.eu).


Very few theories of democratic elections can claim to overarch the field. One of them that has not been given due regard, I suggest, is Albert Hirschman's Exit, Voice, and Loyalty. I aim to exploit the integrative capacity of this general framework in a model of typical “midterm” effects occurring through the electoral cycle. The model unites such diverse phenomena as antigovernment swings, declining turnout, protest voting, conversion, and alienation. An empirical test with comparative survey data from elections to the European Parliament reveals that the role of strategic voting in the form of voice is limited. Instead, processes of de- and realignment in the form of exit dominate a picture of European Parliament elections beyond the widespread conception of “second-order” irrelevance. More generally, the “cyclical” view on voting behavior suggests systematic links between short-run midterm effects and long-run electoral change.