Introduction to the special issue: No longer second-order? Explaining the European Parliament elections of 2019

Date01 November 2021
Published date01 November 2021
2021, Vol. 41(4) 423 –432
© The Author(s) 2021
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DOI: 10.1177/02633957211035096
Introduction to the special
issue: No longer second-order?
Explaining the European
Parliament elections of 2019
Katjana Gattermann , Claes H de Vreese
and Wouter van der Brug
University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The dominant perspective of European Parliament (EP) elections is that these are second-order
national elections where little is at stake. This Special Issue asks whether this perspective is still
valid in view of increased politicisation of European integration and in view of the higher turnout
levels at the last EP elections. This introduction provides a general framework for the Special Issue
and reflects upon some of its main findings. We argue that EP elections can only be considered
first-order if they are primarily about the policies, rather than the polity. Some of the contributions
in this Special Issue suggest that this is indeed the case. We reflect upon this and argue that there
are reasons to expect that EP elections will become first-order elections in the future.
campaigns, elections, European Union, parties, political behaviour
Received: 4th June 2021; Accepted: 23rd June 2021
Up until the European Parliament (EP) elections of 2014, the dominant perspective
among political scientists has been that EP elections are second-order national elections
in which not much is at stake (e.g. Reif and Schmitt, 1980; Schmitt and Toygür, 2016;
Thomassen, 2009; van der Brug and van der Eijk, 2007; van der Brug and de Vreese,
2016; van der Brug et al., 2016; van der Eijk and Franklin, 1996). Hitherto many scholars
have argued that the complex multi-level governance structure of the European Union
(EU) makes it unlikely that these elections can function in the same way as (first-order)
national elections. First of all, there has been no clear connection between the outcome of
EP elections and the composition of the prime executive agent at the EU-level, the
Corresponding author:
Katjana Gattermann, Department of Communication Science, Amsterdam School of Communication
Research, University of Amsterdam, PO Box 15791, 1001 NG Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
1035096POL0010.1177/02633957211035096PoliticsGattermann et al.
Special Issue Article

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