Indifference and alienation: Diverging dimensions of electoral dealignment in Europe


Within the literature, there is an ongoing debate on how to understand the broader implications of the process of electoral dealignment. While some authors argue that dealignment leads to a more ‘open’ electorate that ponders the options offered by the party system, other authors have argued that dealignment leads to a general alienation from the party system. In this article, we investigate the relation between partisanship, indifference towards political parties, and alienation from the party system, on the basis of an analysis of the voter surveys of the European Election Studies project, 1989–2014. The results indicate not only that dealignment is associated with indifference as well as with alienation but also that the relation with alienation is much stronger, both on an aggregate and on an individual level. We conclude, therefore, that dealignment could pose a challenge for the legitimacy of the party system as a whole.

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Figure 1
Figure 2


  1. 1.

    In the 2009 and 2014 EES voter surveys, respondents’ propensity to vote for each of the parties was measured on a scale from 0 to 10 instead of 1 to 10. To allow a comparison with the earlier 1–10 scales, the 0–10 scales were recoded, with 0 being recoded to 1, the values 1 and 2 both being 2 and all other values held constant.

  2. 2.

    Alternatively, we also perform analyses with partisan strength as a measure of dealignment (1=no attachment, 2=merely a sympathizer, 3=fairly close, 4=very close). This analysis resulted in basically the same results (see Appendix C).

  3. 3.

    Theoretically, it could be expected that these effects are not the same in all of the cases that we investigate, but that they are dependent on characteristics of the election and the political system. In an additional analysis, we therefore also estimated random intercept models in which we included voter turnout, effective number of parties, and proportionality of the electoral system as characteristics of that specific election. None of these election-level variables was found to significantly affect indifference or alienation, however, and the individual-level estimates of this analysis showed no difference with the more parsimonious models reported in this article (results available from authors).

  4. 4.

    It is important to note that we also observe an increase in indifference and alienation when pooling the data. The general, European-wide, trend is thus one of growing levels of indifference and alienation.

  5. 5.

    To examine this question we analyse the impact of birth cohorts – operationalized as 5-year intervals on the basis of respondsents’ year of birth and the interactive effect of birth cohorts and partisanship.


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Correspondence to Ruth Dassonneville.


Appendix A

Table A1

Table A1 Evolution of indifference over time

Appendix B

Table A2

Table B1 Evolution of alienation over time

Appendix C

Table A3

Table C1 Explaining political trust and satisfaction with democracy by means of alienation and indifference

Appendix D

Table A4

Table D1 Explaining indifference – election by election

Appendix E

Table A5

Table E1 Explaining alienation – Election by election

Appendix F

Table A6

Table F1 Explaining indifference – Generational differences

Appendix G

Table A7

Table G1 Explaining alienation – Generational differences

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Dassonneville, R., Hooghe, M. Indifference and alienation: Diverging dimensions of electoral dealignment in Europe. Acta Polit 53, 1–23 (2018).

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  • political parties
  • dealignment
  • partisanship
  • indifference
  • alienation