Expressive Versus Instrumental Partisanship in Multiparty European Systems


Partisanship has a powerful influence on political behavior in the United States, but its influence is less certain in European democracies. Part of the debate concerning the influence of partisanship in Europe centers on its nature. From one perspective, partisanship is seen as grounded in factors such as ratings of government performance and agreement with the party's issue stances. We refer to this as the instrumental model. In the United States, however, a competing model has gained empirical support in which partisanship is defined as an identity that is largely defensive in nature and not especially reactive to ongoing events. We refer to this as an expressive model. In this review, we focus on several European democracies (the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Sweden, and Italy) and evaluate evidence for and against an expressive model of partisanship in which democratic citizens act to defend their party in order to maintain its positive standing. We find evidence that strong partisans in Europe exhibit five characteristics of expressive partisans: stable partisan identity, motivated reasoning in defense of the party, the greater influence of identity than issues and ideology in shaping vote choice and political behavior, affective polarization bias in favor of one's own party, and the existence of strong defensive emotions aroused by partisan threats and reassurances. It appears that partisans in the four European democracies act in similar ways to partisans in the United States. Nonetheless, levels of partisan identification differ across the European nations and between European nations and the United States helping to explain national differences in the intensity of partisan behavior.

Document Type





identity strength, multiparty, partisanship, political behavior

Publication Date


Journal Title

Political Psychology