Working Paper
Where do Distrusting Voters Go to if there is no Exit or Voice Option? The Impact of Political Trust on Party Choice in the Belgian Regional Elections of June, 2009

It has been suggested that political trust will lead to a decline in voter turnout and a willingness to vote for challenger or populist parties. Most of the empirical research on this relation, however, has been conducted in the US or Canada. In this paper we investigate the relationship between political (dis)trust and party choice, based on the PartiRep Study 2009. Belgium offers an interesting case because compulsory voting (with an accompanying turnout rate of 90.4 per cent) effectively means that distrust cannot have an impact on turnout. Nevertheless, distrusting voters are significantly more inclined to cast an invalid vote. Second, it was shown that distrust is positively associated with an electoral preference for extreme right (Vlaams Belang) and populist (List De Decker) parties. Third, in party systems where no populist or extremist challenger is viable (i.e., the French speaking region of Belgium), political trust does not have a significant effect on party preferences, even in conditions of a high level of distrust. We conclude that the electoral effects of political distrust are strongly dependent on the electoral system, the party system and the supply on the electoral protest market.