Populist Tribes: Protest Voting as a Collective Action

    • EUPE Florence Dec2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Carlo Altomonte , Bocconi University, Milan, Italy
      • Gloria Gennaro, Bocconi University, Milan, Italy


    Under what conditions do economic grievances produce protest vote? The UK referendum leading to Brexit and the election of President Trump in the US have both been considered as epitomes of the increasing relevance of protest vote in Western societies. The determinants of the latter have often been identified in blooming opposition to globalization and ensuing economic insecurity in Europe and in the US, taking the form of rising nationalist parties or political polarization. Still, while there seems to be agreement in the literature on the fact that some form of economic grievances have lead to the emergence of protest, the channels through which the latter materializes are still under discussion. We claim that economic grievances mature in localised social context. Hence, we frame protest vote as a collective action problem, where voting decisions emerge from the interplay between economic loss and in-group solidarity. Individuals suffering economic grievances engage in the individually costly action of protest voting if the expected collective reward is sufficiently high, i.e. if they expect that a critical mass of protest voters can be achieved. As a result, for a given level of individual economic loss, the share of protest vote is higher in communities experiencing high levels of social cohesion, with the latter acting as a mechanism enforcing the mutual norm of voting for a protest party. We test this theory by analyzing the vote share to the UK Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2010 and 2015 national elections for the 380 Local Authority Districts (LADs) in Great Britain. The combination of longitudinal individual data and district characteristics allows us to identify a causal mechanism that links economic grievances and social cohesion to populist vote.