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Electoral losses for ruling parties in Dutch local government

Parties providing few aldermen punished most
14 March 2018
© FTW / Nationale Beeldbank

The political parties currently holding power in municipal government will lose an average of four to eight percent of their council seats at the forthcoming local elections. The parties that provide fewest members for the executive stand to lose twice as many seats as the parties that provide the most. These are the results of research conducted by the University of Groningen Centre for Research on Local Government Economics (COELO) and published in today’s edition of the journal ESB.

COELO studied municipal elections in the period 1990-2014. The research takes into account numerous other factors which might explain the changes in the distribution of council seats between the parties. The four to eight percent loss of seats is the average effect that can be fully attributed to participating in the municipal executive.

Government responsibility versus opposition

A four to eight-percent loss of seats can make the difference between a party being in power or being in the opposition. ‘But this is the average effect’, says Professor Maarten Allers. ‘Our research shows that parties providing few aldermen can expect to lose more seats than larger ones. This could be because smaller parties can influence policy less and therefore disappoint more voters.’

Demands heightened during coalition negotiations

In a well-functioning democracy in which power regularly changes hands, electoral losses on the heels of taking up government responsibility is to be expected, Allers maintains. ‘But it also means that voters punish parties purely for accepting executive responsibility. These findings may give smaller parties something to think about. If being in power costs them votes, they will have to make extra high demands during the coalition negotiations to compensate for the expected loss of votes.’

More information

  • Contact: Harm Rienks, PhD student, tel.: +31 (0)6 3070 3137 and Joes de Natris, researcher, tel.: +31 (0)50 363 3707.
  • For the full publication: Maarten Allers, Joes de Natris and Harm Rienks, Besturen gemeente kost partijen raadszetels, ESB, 2018, 103, 121-123.
  • Websites: coelo.nl and esb.nu
Last modified:14 March 2018 3.03 p.m.

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