Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 831–856 | Cite as

A Behavioral Theory of Electoral Structure

  • Till WeberEmail author
  • Mark N. Franklin
Original Paper


Why are party systems in modern democracies so essentially robust? We theorize patterns of electoral competition as the outcome of a struggle between entropy and structure. Forces of entropy entail idiosyncratic voting behavior guided by subjective evaluations, while forces of structure entail coordinated behavior emerging from objective aspects of party preference. Our model locates determinants of party preference on a continuum spanning subjective and objective concerns. Entropy is endemic but elections for nationwide executive office periodically prime objective concerns, reinstating structure in party systems. We demonstrate the cyclical pulse of national elections in a comparative analysis of pseudo-randomized survey data from the European Election Studies since 1989. We also show how feedback from differently-sized party systems consolidates different working equilibria.


Electoral cycles Party systems Voting behavior 



Early versions of this paper were presented at APSA 2010 and MPSA 2011 as well as in talks at Australian National University, the European University Institute, Nuffield College Oxford, Temple University, Trinity College Dublin, University of British Columbia and University of Houston. We thank the participants for their helpful comments and in particular Matt Barreto, Fabrizio Bernardi, Cees van der Eijk, Anand Shastri, Laura Stoker, Bernhard Wessels, Christopher Wlezien, and the anonymous reviewers.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9425_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (143 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 143 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political Science, Baruch CollegeCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceTrinity College ConnecticutHartfordUSA

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