Rally 'Round the Prime Minister: a study into the effects of a diplomatic conflict on public opinion under coalition government


The rally ‘round the flag effect is a well-known phenomenon in the nexus between public opinion and international relations. This phenomenon has been well studied for the US. It has not been studied extensively for multiparty coalition systems. This study analyses the effect of a diplomatic crisis on the popularity of the Prime Minister of the Netherlands. It makes three key contributions to the literature on the rally effect. Firstly, it considers the effect of a diplomatic incident on the popularity of the head of government in a parliamentary system with coalition government. Secondly, it considers the effect of this incident on both the Prime Minister and the Vice Prime Minister who come from different parties. Thirdly, it employs a matching quasi-experimental design to get a better grip on the causal relationship between an international conflict and the support for government leaders.

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  1. 1.

    There are multiple studies in the United Kingdom (e.g. Lai and Reiter 2005) and single studies of France (Georgarakis 2017), Japan (Kobayashi and Katagiri 2018), Russia (Theiler 2018) and Israel (Feinstein 2018) as well as in comparative studies (Tir and Singh 2013; Singh and Tir 2018). Feinstein (2018)’s study of Israel is the only one of a coalition government but he does not problematise this element.

  2. 2.

    Mueller (1970) in his original contribution lists a “major diplomatic developments”, such as Cuban missile crisis, the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine and meetings between the US president and the Soviet leaders.

  3. 3.

    The formula for the effective number of government parties is: \(ENGP= \frac{1}{\sum_{i=1}^{n}{(\frac{{g}_{i}}{G})}^{2}}\) where gi is the number of seats a government party has in the lower house of parliament and G is the total number of seats of government parties in the lower house.

  4. 4.

    Nu.nl (11/32,017) “Dit weten we over de diplomatieke rel tussen Nederland en Turkije” Nu.nl. https://www.nu.nl/dvn/4533696/weten-we-diplomatieke-rel-tussen-nederland-en-turkije.html.

  5. 5.

    CNNTurk.com (11/32,017). “Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu: Hollanda uçuş iznini iptal ile tehdit etti”. CNNTurk.com. https://www.cnnturk.com/turkiye/mevlut-cavusoglu-hollanda-ucus-iznini-iptal-ile-tehdit-etti.

  6. 6.

    Niemantsverdriet, T. and Kas, A. (12/3/2017). “Rutte in NRC: Turkse premier en ik moeten snel gaan.

    eten”, NRC Handelsblad. https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/03/12/politiek-is-nietromantisch-de-hele-dag-nieuwe-dingen-doen-7328387-a1549995.

  7. 7.

    Hendrickx, F. (28/122,017). ''Turkijerel gereconstrueerd: een nieuwe blik op de diplomatieke clash die.

    Nederland verenigde''. De Volkskrant.

  8. 8.

    Prent, N. (11/32,017). “Erdogan boos op 'fascistisch' Nederland”. BNR. https://www.bnr.nl/nieuws/internationaal/10319751/erdogan-boos-op-nederland.

  9. 9.

    Hendrickx (2017).

  10. 10.

    Niemantsverdriet and Kas (2017).

  11. 11.

    De Telegraaf (13/3/2017). “Doorpakken.” De Telegraaf.

  12. 12.

    Kranenburg, M. (12/32,017). ''Diplomatieke rel helpt Rutte en Erdogan'', NRC Handelsblad. https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/03/12/diplomatieke-rel-helpt-rutte-en-erdogan-7329430-a1550025.

  13. 13.

    Obbema, F. (13/3/2017). “Conflict met Turkije” De Volkskrant.

  14. 14.

    Pelgrim, C. And P. Van den Dool (13/3/2017). “Politiek Panel: Rutte profiteert electoraal van conflict met Turkije”. https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2017/03/13/heeft-het-conflict-met-turkije-electoraal-effect-voor-rutte-7349640-a1550081.

  15. 15.

    EenVandaag (2017). “DEBAT | Mark Rutte (VVD) vs Geert Wilders (PVV)”. EenVandaag March 13, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOB08lo3qEA.

  16. 16.

    Buitenhof (12/3/2017). “Sybrand Buma en Jesse Klaver over Turkije” Buitenhof.. https://www.vpro.nl/buitenhof/speel~POMS_VPRO_7815201~sybrand-buma-en-jesse-klaver-over-turkije~.html.

  17. 17.

    De Telegraaf (11/3/2017). “Lof voor Rutte in Zaak-Turkije”. De Telegraaf.. https://www.telegraaf.nl/nieuws/1328874/lof-voor-rutte-in-zaak-turkije.

  18. 18.

    To ensure that the effects, we find can be attributed to the crisis events, we look at data from a third wave of the survey (held on the Monday and Tuesday between the diplomatic incident and the elections) in Table A.4 in the Appendix. Respondents were asked about their knowledge of the conflict, their judgement about the decisions made and the role that the conflict played in their vote: 99% of respondents was aware of the events, 90% of the respondents agreed with the government actions and 18% of respondents indicated that the events played at least some role in the decision in the elections. While not a true manipulation check, it does show the Dutch–Turkish crisis was on the minds of voter in the week of the election. The lack of a manipulation check makes our estimates more conservative: if we find a pattern using this timing variable, it seems likely the effect would be larger if we were sure all ‘treated’ respondents actually knew the news.

  19. 19.

    The scale scores were ''not applicable at all'' (1), ''not so applicable'' (2), ''neutral'' (3), ''somewhat applicable'' (4) and ''fully applicable'' (5).

  20. 20.

    While the scales that Mueller (1970, p. 28) used and we use, are different, he finds that a rally effect that is of comparable size “five or six percentage points” of his scale compared to eight percentage points of ours.


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The authors would like to thank Femke Bakker, Joop van Holsteyn and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Simon Otjes.

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Beijen, M., Otjes, S. & Kanne, P. Rally 'Round the Prime Minister: a study into the effects of a diplomatic conflict on public opinion under coalition government. Acta Polit (2021). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-020-00190-4

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  • Rally ‘round the flag
  • Prime Minister
  • Parliamentary systems
  • Coalition government
  • Quasi-experimental designs