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Second-order Elections in the British Isles

Les élections de second ordre dans les Îles britanniques

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Published on Friday, March 22, 2013 by Élodie Faath


In the wake of the first elections to the European parliament in 1979, a new term was coined by political scientists to explain some of their key features: “second-order elections”. Unlike so-called first-order elections, they are generally characterised by a low turnout, by the importance of external factors, by the greater role played by minor and new parties, and by the tendency for such elections to function as a protest vote against the party in power. However, these features may also be observed, to a lesser degree, in other mid-term elections such as regional and local elections, as well as in by-elections. The aim of this one-day conference is to further understanding of the role played by such elections in the various political systems of the British Isles.



The aim of this one-day conference is to further understanding of the role played by such elections in the various political systems of the British Isles. Among the types of second-order elections under discussion will be those to the various devolved authorities in the UK (since 1999), together with the more recent PCC elections of November 2012; the long-standing presidential elections in the Irish Republic; and, of course, those elections to the European parliament which prompted the invention of the term. In the last case, the fact that different voting systems are in place in Ireland, North and South, and in Britain,makes this a fascinating case study, particularly when it comes to exploring the way in which voting systems facilitate the participation and, on occasion, the election, of candidates from smaller and newly-formed parties.

A number of main themes will be addressed during this one-day conference. We hope in particular that case studies will throw light on the relationship between theory and practice and will help refine the definition of second-order elections. Among the possible research questions welcomed by the conference organisers are the following:

  • To what extent can European elections in the British Isles be described as “second-order elections” given that over the years voters have developed specific electoral strategies to obtain a voice in the system?
  • Does the election of municipal mayors in Britain – and in particular that of the Mayor of London – represent a potential source of strength for government and opposition parties or is it rather a recipe for division and protest voting? And what can be said about its contribution to the debate on participatory v. representative democracy?
  • It might be suggested that the term “second order” is a misleading one, given that such elections often witness the emergence of new parties, new issues and even new models of governance. From that perspective, could it be argued that to label such voting behaviour mere “protest votes” underestimates their potential significance, and thus their interest to researchers?
    • To what extent are second-order election campaigns specially designed and organised by parties and candidates to match the particularities of such elections?
    • Finally, as far as UK elections are concerned, the use of PR or mixed electoral systems in most second-order elections has permitted the emergence or growth of a number of smaller parties and sometimes for new political alliances to be forged, as in Wales and Scotland. What exactly is the relationship between the experimental voting systems put in place and the results obtained, both in terms of party share and turnout? And what is the likely long-term impact of such elections?

Submission guidelines

Paper proposals of no more than 300 words and a short CV should be sent to the conference organisers: and

by June 1st, 2013  

Papers may be in either English or French. The organisers would also be happy to reply to any queries regarding the conference.

Scientific committee

  • Claire Charlot (Paris-Sorbonne),
  • Christophe Gillissen (Paris-Sorbonne),
  • Wesley Hutchinson (Sorbonne-Nouvelle),
  • Dennis Kavanagh (University of Liverpool, GB)


  • Maison de la Recherche, Salle D035 - 28 rue Serpente
    Paris, France (75005)


  • Saturday, June 01, 2013

Attached files


  • élections second-ordre, élections intermédiaires, Îles britanniques


  • claire Charlot
    courriel : clairecharlot [dot] sorbonne [at] gmail [dot] com
  • Christophe Gillissen
    courriel : christophe [dot] gillissen [at] paris-sorbonne [dot] fr

Information source

  • claire Charlot
    courriel : clairecharlot [dot] sorbonne [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Second-order Elections in the British Isles », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Friday, March 22, 2013,

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