Protest at the ballot box: From blank vote to populism

Hadas Aron*, Chiara Superti

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Populist parties foment discontent with the establishment. Previous studies explored whether sentiments of discontent and protest can predict populist voting. In this paper, we argue that past electoral protest in a community, rather than merely a sense of discontent, is a good predictor of new populist lists and their electoral support. We explore this connection using blank voting, a measure that allows a systematic and unbiased evaluation of protest at the municipal level. We first test our theory on the Italian Five Star Movement (M5S). Controlling for economic and demographic variables, we demonstrate that in municipalities with high blank vote in previous elections, the probability of new M5S lists and M5S vote share were higher. Testing the generalizability of our theory using cross-national populism data, we show that past protest in the form of blank/null voting is a strong predictor of the level of populist rhetoric in a political system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)638-650
Number of pages13
JournalParty Politics
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • European politics
  • political parties
  • populism
  • protest


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