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Electoral Volatility and the Dutch Party System: A Comparative Perspective


This paper places the current wave of Dutch electoral volatility within a comparative European context, and emphasizes its exceptional character. Evidence of Dutch exceptionalism in terms of the broad patterns of electoral change that have developed across the post-war years is reviewed, and the focus is then narrowed to the evidence from very recent elections. One of the major factors accounting for the current high levels of volatility is the relative openness of the party system. Evidence of the patterns of government alternation shows that the Dutch party system is relatively unstructured, but it was only when depillarization was more or less complete that the real effect of this openness kicked in.

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  1. This paper incorporates and builds on two earlier Dutch language papers: Mair (2002b) and Mair (2003). I am grateful to Hans Keman and an anonymous reviewer for comments on an earlier version.

  2. That is, these are the two factors that I wish to highlight for the purpose of this paper and that I regard as key elements in the explanation of electoral change. Other factors might also prove relevant, of course, but I cannot test for these within the scope of this present research.

  3. The two principal sources that I have used to compile these data are Woldendorp et al. (2000) and Müller and Strøm (2000). I have excluded the French case of France, which, because of the large role accorded to so-called ‘independents’ or non-partisan cabinet members during both the fourth and fifth Republics, is not easily analysed in terms of shifting patterns of partisan alternation. The inclusion of the French case is also complicated by its non-comparable presidential system. The data for Malta do not include the 1950s. A more complete presentation of the data and an analysis can be seen in Mair (2007).

  4. Values for IGA apply only to cases of changes in the partisan composition of government, that is when one or more parties step in and/or when one or more parties step out, and I take no account of reshuffles within strictly persisting partisan constellations.

  5. The CDA and VVD had governed together in the late 1970s and the mid-1980s, albeit never before in combination with D66. D66 later pulled out of the coalition in June 2006 in the wake of the controversy surrounding the citizenship status of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the crisis that also led to the 2006 election.


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Mair, P. Electoral Volatility and the Dutch Party System: A Comparative Perspective. Acta Polit 43, 235–253 (2008).

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  • electoral volatility
  • Netherlands
  • government alternation
  • party system
  • electoral constraint