No. 28

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Independent Candidates in National and European Elections

  • Piret Ehin

    Senior Researcher, Institute of Government and Politics, University of Tartu

  • Ülle Madise

    Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Tartu

  • Mihkel Solvak

    Mihkel Solvak

    University of Tartu, Institute of Government and Politics, Researcher

  • Kristjan Vassil

    Research Fellow, Institute of Government and Politics, University of Tartu

The article examines the electoral participation and performance of independent candidates in national and European elections in EU-27. Independent candidates continue to receive a marginal number of votes in the vast majority of elections in which they compete.

However, they do regularly win seats in legislative assemblies in a number of European countries, and occasionally achieve surprise victories in others. Half of the EU member states currently grant ballot access to independent candidates in national legislative elections, while only a quarter of member states allow non-party candidates in European Parliament elections. Ballot access requirements for independent candidates vary widely across EU-27 but tend to be more stringent for European elections than for national elections. Independent candidates perform better in systems with plurality rule or preferential voting compared to party-list PR systems. They win seats in single-member districts and low-magnitude multi-member districts. Although independent candidates are expected to benefit from electoral rules that make politics more candidate-centered, the performance of non-party candidates does not depend on the modality of lists (open or closed). A vote for an independent candidate has elements of a protest vote. Voters who vote for independent candidates tend to be more critical of the government and less satisfied with the way democracy works in their country, compared to party-voters. They are also less likely to feel affinity towards any political party. When independent candidates are elected to office, they frequently join parties and parliamentary party groups. Thus, independence is often not a principled position but a temporary status resulting from circumstantial choices made by individuals competing for political office.

Full article in Estonian

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