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It’s not only about the leader. Oligarchized personalization and preference voting in Belgium

By Jessy Bailly

Sage Journals
Party Politics



Research on the electoral personalization of politics has stressed a trend towards a greater role of top prominent political figures (party leaders and ministers). This trend was described as centralized electoral personalization. Yet, this trend is merely one side of a more complex story. No leader attracts all voters’ support, and other candidates manage to stand out despite lower resources and visibility. Using a unique dataset of 47,239 actual ballot papers cast for the 2018 Belgian local elections, we show that candidates-level, lists-level and districts-level factors result in distinct preference voting behaviour. While these factors lead to unmistakable forms of (de-)centralized personalized forms of elections, we, furthermore, show that intermediary situations distinctively emerge. A significant number of ‘subtop’ candidates stand out among candidates, by attracting support from voters who do not support the mere leader of the list. This ‘oligarchized personalization’ would deserve greater attention in the literature.

Mis à jour le 16 octobre 2023