26 April 2012

Firing the Coach: Also in France

The defeat of Nicholas Sarkozy in the presidential election in France suggests that the political consequences of the economic crisis in Europe are bad for both leftist and rightist governments. Electorates are "firing the coach", as sport teams do when their performance worsens, even if many people realize that the coach or prime minister is not always fully responsible for all the economy’s performance, or perhaps precisely for that.

Together with Pedro Magalhaes we organized an international academic conference on this topic at Georgetown University a few days ago. You can click below for the conference program and for our paper, which is summarized here:

Government’s parties in European Union countries are losing elections in high frequency during the last few years. The electoral performance of the government’s party appears to be clearly associated with the economic performance of the country just before the election. The relative losses of votes are somewhat higher for large parties, which typically form single-party governments or party-dominated coalitions, than for smaller parties participating in multiparty coalition governments, as the former can be made more easily responsible of bad performance than the latter. Defeat of incumbents affect both leftist and rightist governments, depending on the economic conditions in which they run for reelection.
European electorates may be experiencing an increasing frustration of previously accumulated expectations regarding the benefits of government’s management. In the most recent period the increasing transnationalization of economic relations has further weakened the state governments’ capability to face economic difficulties and have weakened the subsequent voters’ trust and support. Together with the tendency towards parties’ convergence in economic policy positions, which is greatly a result of the increasingly authoritative role of the European Union institutions over the state governments, transnationalization has made voters’ electoral choices in state-level elections less relevant for policy-making. 
We suggest a comparison with the “firing the coach” typical reaction to defeats and failures in sport matches and tournaments. As elaborated in the growing discipline of economics of football, firing the coach is analyzed as a ritual scapegoating. Sport club members, like voters in state-level elections in our case, can be aware of the fact that a failure, such a team’s or an economy’s underperformance, is due to a number of factors that cannot be fairly simplified as only bad management. But managers and governments are punished, even if many people realize that they are not always fully responsible for all the team’s or the economy’s performance, precisely because voters cannot trust promises for the future anymore and regular democratic functioning requires making the managers and the rulers responsive.
Nevertheless, as in a typical occurrence in sports regarding the team achievements when a new manager is appointed, the choice of a new prime minister may make no difference to economic performance. Actually, increasing political instability can even add a new element of distrust and trouble to the numerous previously existing factors for economic recession and high unemployment. In many elections in European countries in the last few years voters have offered the prime minister’s head in ritual sacrifice. But as a change of prime minister may not improve the government’s capacity for facing the crisis effectively, further disappointments may still increase the frequency of governments’ turnover and the degree of political instability. 

See the full paper: CLICK
A summary in Spanish, in the daily El Pais: CLICK

Political Consequences of the Economic Crisis in Europe: 
Conference program: CLICK


This is a great paper
Patrick Dunleavy
London School of Economics

Thank you professor!
Cute intervention.
Mauro Vaiani
Universita di Pisa

Josep, I realize now that we're working on the same topic!
Leonardo Morlino
President, International Political Science Association

Very good paper (although think there are other reasons to get rid of Sarkozy in particular)!
Helen Margetts
Oxford University


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