Europeans by the Polls. What Voter Motivation Tells Us about EP Accountability

  • Abstract:

    European Elections have traditionally been portrayed as second order elections in which voting behavior is largely shaped by national politics. This poses a challenge to the European Parliament’s accountability: If voters are led by national concerns, the elections cannot meaningfully guide the European policy-making process. On the other hand, there is a growing literature pointing to the politicization of the integration process: the EU enters the electoral arena as an object of contestation (polity politicization). According to this interpretation, voters use European elections to express their views on the integration process itself. In light of these conflicting theories and normative implications, we explore the motivations voiced by voters in regards to the 2019 EP elections and assess their meaning for the parliament’s accountability. We conducted 107 semi-structured interviews in France, Poland and Germany on Election Day with broad and open questions to explore voter heuristics, interpretative frames, and recurring themes. This qualitative approach allows us to develop a typology of six kinds of voter motivation. We find evidence of both second-order behavior and polity politicization, but also novel types of voter heuristics much less investigated so far. In particular, we discern EU-specific policy politicization, i.e. citizens addressing the EU with policy demands suited to this level of government. We argue that national context and age seem to drive these different forms of politicization. Based on these findings, we draw rather optimistic conclusions regarding the EP’s accountability.