Indifferent and Eurosceptic: The motivations of EU-only abstainers in the 2019 European Parliament election

Publication Date01 November 2021
DOI10.1177/0263395720981359
Date01 November 2021
AuthorConstantin Schäfer
SubjectSpecial Issue Articles
https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395720981359
Politics
2021, Vol. 41(4) 522 –536
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/0263395720981359
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Indifferent and Eurosceptic:
The motivations of EU-only
abstainers in the 2019 European
Parliament election
Constantin Schäfer
University of Münster, Germany
Abstract
Despite the dramatic voter turnout increase in 2019, the participation level in European Parliament
elections is still considerably lower than in national elections. How can we explain this persistent
‘Euro gap’? This article analyses the motivations of citizens who participate in national but not in
European electoral contests, the so-called ‘EU-only abstainers’. The empirical analysis based on
the EES 2019 voter study reveals that EU-only abstention is driven by low levels of general political
interest and EU-specific political sophistication, as well as by distrust towards EU institutions.
Therefore, the Euro gap results from the widespread perception that there is ‘less at stake’ during
EP elections, but it is also an aggregate-level consequence of individual Eurosceptic attitudes. These
findings have important implications for our understanding of present-day European elections and
the debate between the two most common theoretical approaches in EP election research.
Keywords
European Parliament elections, Euroscepticism, non-voting, political awareness, political
participation
Received: 31st May 2020; Revised version received: 8th September 2020; Accepted: 23rd October 2020
Introduction
The European Parliament (EP) election in 2019 surprised many observers and analysts.
For the first time since 1979, overall voter turnout increased compared to the previous
election, yielding the highest rate (50.66%) in the past 25 years. Even more strikingly, 20
out of 28 EU member states experienced a rise in turnout compared to 2014 – an overall
increase of around eight percentage points. While the European Parliament itself called
the increase in turnout ‘a symbol of the democratic EU’s good health’ (EP, 2019),1 some
scholars described this dramatic boost in electoral participation as ‘an indication of
Corresponding author:
Constantin Schäfer, Institute of Political Science, University of Münster, Scharnhorststr. 100, Münster 48151,
Germany.
Email: constantin.schaefer@uni-muenster.de
981359POL0010.1177/0263395720981359PoliticsSchäfer
research-article2021
Special Issue Article

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