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Joining the municipal executive board costs parties votes – but one more than the others

SP heavily penalized while CU and SGP win precisely because they provide aldermen
18 December 2020
Maarten Allers

Political parties that provide aldermen to jointly govern a municipality lose an average of 5 percent of their council seats in the following elections. The loss of seats depends, among other things, on the party and on the number of parties in the municipal executive board. These are the findings from research conducted by COELO on the basis of election results from the period between 1990 and 2018. COELO (Centrum voor Onderzoek van de Economie van de Lagere Overheden; Centre for Research on Local Government Economics) is a research institute affiliated with the University of Groningen.

When a party joins a coalition, it will have to make compromises. Voters seem to often react negatively to this. Not all parties, however, seem to face drawbacks from participating in a municipal executive board; the CU and SGP actually gain seats from this while no effect has been found for the PvdA. For the CDA and VVD, we see a limited loss of seats; local parties, D66 and GL lose more in comparison and the SP faces the worst consequences if it provides aldermen.

There is no trend in the consequences of joining the executive board: voters in 2018 did not react more negatively to executive board participation than they did a quarter of a century ago.

It is striking that parties in the municipal executive board are only punished when a maximum of three parties are involved. If more parties are included, then they don’t face any loss of seats. It could be that disappointed voters find it harder to put the blame on specific parties in the case of negative outcomes.

What’s more, it appears that the loss of seats following executive board participation only occurs if a party has sat in the council for less than four council terms. Once a party sits in the council for a fourth (or more) term, it no longer faces negative electoral consequences.

In addition, if a party jointly governs at the national level too, this also results in a loss of seats in municipal council elections. It is apparent that local candidates are judged by voters who are disappointed in their colleagues at the national level. Whether or not the party is included in the Cabinet has no effect on the loss of seats as a result of participation in an executive board.

The long-term approach of this study and the large variation in local party characteristics makes it possible to filter out the influence of all sorts of other factors on election results. If, for example, we say that the CU and SGP do not lose any seats but actually win them after sitting in the executive board, this is not a result of these parties often being small, for instance. The scope of the parties and other characteristics are already taken into account.

Last modified:17 December 2020 11.08 a.m.
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