The 1999 European Parliament Election: Empirical Observation and Theoretical Implication





Published date: 

December, 2000


David Wei-feng Huang


In this paper, the 1999 European (Parliament) election has been used to test relevant theories on elections. European elections have been regarded as second-order elections for decades. The 1999 European election is no exception, because it fulfills three defined characteristics of second-order election at the macro level. These Characteristics are (1) lower turnouts than those of general elections, (2) massive defeat of incumbent parties and relative success of minor parties, and (3) the impact of national electoral cycle on the result of European election. However, at the micro level, data drawn from “Eurobarometers” do not confirm the micro-level hypothesis of second-order election thesis. Without adequate information, individual voters do not know whether the power of European Parliament is greater or smaller than that of their national parliament. Therefore, voters have no bases to make any subjective judgement with regard to whether European election is more or less important than national election. On the contrary, it is politicians, media, and parties, who know better the stake of European election that, make no effort to mobilize voters to vote. As a result, turnout rates are generally lower. Some evidence in the 1999 European election has pointed to this “party mobilization hypothesis.” In addition to verifying second-order election thesis, the author shows that constituency magnitude does affect election result. The 1999 European election in the UK confirms Rae’s hypothesis, namely, the larger the constituency magnitude, the more minor-party candidates elected in the constituency. However Labor’s massive defeat in the 1999 European election cannot entirely be attributed to the new electoral system. On the contrary, Labour may lose more seats had it not for the new regional PR list system. Finally, the author provides evidence to reject any correlation between the value of Euro and the outcome of the 1999 European election.