New Publication

Protest and the Decline of Mainstream Parties

A myriad of studies has shown that voting depends on the economic context. Electorates tend to punish incumbents during economic crisis and reward them when the economy is doing well. A new study by Swen Hutter, Björn Bremer and Hanspeter Kriesi aims to shed light on the link between the economy and the electoral fortunes of political parties by drawing a neglected factor into the equation: the level of political protest.

The study by Swen Hutter (WZB), Björn Bremer (Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies) and Hanspeter Kriesi (European University Institute) combines data on protest events with data on election results in 30 European countries, straddling traditions to describe what they suggest are two sides of the same political coin. While some form of “economic vote” has long been factored in by researchers studying elections, they have been slow to acknowledge the effect that protest and party-movement interactions may have on voters’ assessment of the economy, argue the authors. They are able to show that electoral punishment for failing to deliver the promise of general welfare depends on the level of protest in a country. This pattern, they surmise, seems to hold especially true in Western Europe where visible and public protests clearly helped challenger parties from the left and right rise to the fore, thereby intensifying the decline of traditional mainstream parties.

The article “Dynamics of protest and electoral politics in the Great Recession” (2019) was published in the European Journal of Political Research: