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The decision to vote is partly based on the expected cost of voting. We test the hypothesis that voting in one election reduces the expected cost of voting in the following election, as voters learn that the cost of voting is low. Using three different datasets—the National Electors Study conducted during the 2019 Canadian federal election; a two-wave YouGov survey in British Columbia and Quebec in 2008 and 2009, at the time of the federal and subsequent provincial elections; and a five-wave survey conducted for the Making Electoral Democracy Work project in Bavaria in 2013 and 2014, before and after the Land, federal and European elections—we find that voters who voted in a previous election perceive it will be easier to vote in a subsequent election. We also find evidence that voting leads to more accurate estimates of how little time it takes to vote.
Research on persuasion and social influence suggests that crafting effective persuasive and influential appeals is not only feasible but can be done fairly reliably with appropriate guidance from the relevant theories. With the advent of large-scale experiments conducted in field settings, key propositions about persuasion and social influence can be evaluated on a grand scale. In this chapter we assess whether well-known psychological insights work in practice, reviewing efforts related to political mobilisation and persuasion. We argue that in many cases field tests generate an estimated effect that is much smaller than highly influential psychological studies might lead us to expect. The implications of large-scale testing are profound, not only because of the guidance they offer for political campaigns, but also because of their implications for prominent psychological theories.
Numerous studies conclude that declining turnout is harmful for democracy. However, we uncover the arguably positive effect that political parties become more responsive to the median voter in the election after turnout has decreased. We assume that parties are vote seeking and show that moderate voters are responsible for changes in turnout, and we argue that declining turnout in an election sends a clear signal to political parties that there is an opportunity to mobilize disaffected voters in the following election by responding to changes in public opinion. We report the results of statistical analyses on data from thirteen democracies from 1977 to 2018 that provide evidence that declining voter turnout in one inter-election period is associated with increasing party responsiveness to public opinion in the following period. Our findings have important implications for our understanding of voter turnout, political representation, and parties' election strategies.
Political campaigns frequently emphasize the material stakes at play in election outcomes to motivate participation. However, field-experimental academic work has given greater attention to other aspects of voters' decisions to participate despite theoretical models of turnout and substantial observational work signaling that a contest's perceived importance affects the propensity to vote. We identify two classes of treatments that may increase the material incentive to participate and test these messages in a large-scale placebo-controlled field experiment in which approximately 24,500 treatment letters were delivered during Connecticut's 2013 municipal elections. We find some evidence that these messages are effective in increasing participation, as well as that some of them may be more effective than typical nonpartisan get-out-the-vote appeals. While these results remain somewhat preliminary, our findings have important implications for our understanding of how voters decide whether to participate and how best to mobilize citizens who would otherwise sit out elections.
In 2019, the Knight Foundation surveyed 4,000 “persistent nonvoters” – people who had stayed home for the majority of the previous six national elections. These people are, as the survey data suggest, not deeply involved in politics. In fact, they are unusual for the total lack of involvement: Voter turnout in America is not as high as it could be, but most people vote at least in presidential elections if they are eligible. From one perspective, the nonvoters in both, Knight’s survey and, later, their focus groups, serve as a contrast to the deeply involved people in Chapter 3 – people who stayed up late at night reading the news and felt anxious when they could not follow the news. But from another perspective, many of the nonvoters were acutely aware of politics: The focus group participant we quote earlier reports that their voting options “suck,” another participant worried about voting for the “lesser of two evils,” and still another questioned whether people in government can actually represent them.
I examine the relationship between labor unions and voter turnout in the American states. Though it is well known that unions increase turnout directly, we know less about their indirect effects. Moreover, the indirect effects may consist of nonmember mobilization and aggregate strength. To examine the direct and indirect mechanisms, I analyze both state-level panel data and individual-level data with a multilevel approach. First, my panel analysis shows that unions are positively associated with turnout as expected. Yet, the association is observed only in midterm elections, but not in presidential elections. Second, more importantly, my individual-level analysis suggests that indirect nonmember mobilization and indirect aggregate strength are positively related to turnout, while direct member mobilization is not. The findings imply that the direct effects are limited and, thus, that decreasing levels of voter turnout due to recently declining union membership come primarily from indirect mobilization rather than direct mobilization.
The story of this chapter is that when it comes to local engagement, the decline of local news affects the political behavior of citizens across the spectrum very similarly. The growing scarcity of reporting about local government has led to growing disengagement among Americans of all stripes.
At a time when political observers worry – justifiably – about the health of the US’ national political institutions, threats to local democratic governance cannot be ignored. The local news media – by providing accurate information to citizens about what is happening in city halls, county governments, school boards, and other local political institutions throughout the country – constitute a vital link in the democratic process. Political representation and government effectiveness thus depend on reinvigorating the local news media and the citizen engagement that goes along with it. It can be done, but without a collective effort by citizens, journalists, and groups committed to strengthening local journalism, the long-term health of American democracy may be in peril.
This chapter provides a thorough empirical account of the connection between local news and political engagement during the last two decades. Drawing on a variety of data sources, we go beyond the existing research to demonstrate that the demise of local newspapers we documented in Chapters 2 and 3 indeed contributes to reductions in political engagement in America’s cities and towns.
The demise of the newspaper industry in the last two decades has exacerbated the problems of limited public engagement in local politics. The downward slide of local government coverage has left the nation less knowledgeable about its local elected officials and less likely to participate in local elections. These trends are concerning enough as they have already played out. But they are particularly worrisome given local journalism’s precarious future. Without a revitalization of the local media environment, democratic accountability and quality representation in cities and towns across the United States will become increasingly elusive.
In recent decades, turnout in US presidential elections has soared, education levels have hit historic highs, and the internet has made information more accessible than ever. Yet over that same period, Americans have grown less engaged with local politics and elections. Drawing on detailed analysis of fifteen years of reporting in over 200 local newspapers, along with election returns, surveys, and interviews with journalists, this study shows that the demise of local journalism has played a key role in the decline of civic engagement. As struggling newspapers have slashed staff, they have dramatically cut their coverage of mayors, city halls, school boards, county commissions, and virtually every aspect of local government. In turn, fewer Americans now know who their local elected officials are, and turnout in local elections has plummeted. To reverse this trend and preserve democratic accountability in our communities, the local news industry must be reinvigorated – and soon.
Why has voter turnout declined in democracies all over the world? This article draws on findings from microlevel studies and theorizes two explanations: generational change and a rise in the number of elective institutions. The empirical section tests these hypotheses along with other explanations proposed in the literature—shifts in party/candidate competition, voting-age reform, weakening group mobilization, income inequality, and economic globalization. The authors conduct two analyses. The first analysis employs an original data set covering all post-1945 democratic national elections. The second studies individual-level data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems and British, Canadian, and US national election studies. The results strongly support the generational change and elective institutions hypotheses, which account for most of the decline in voter turnout. These findings have important implications for a better understanding of the current transformations of representative democracy and the challenges it faces.
This article assesses whether messages that are framed to denigrate a politician or political entity in the eyes of a particular group – defined here as negative targeted messages – decreases Blacks' enthusiasm to vote. It also explores why such messages are effective at demobilizing Black voters. Using a survey experiment implemented on a nationally representative sample, the authors find that Blacks are less enthusiastic about voting when presented with evidence of racism within their preferred political party. Whites and Latinxs do not respond similarly to the same stimulus. The findings also demonstrate evidence that the effectiveness of negative targeted messages towards Blacks is driven by the treatment's ability to alter perceptions of party empathy. Overall, the results suggest that targeted negative messages can be effective at depressing Black turnout. However, parties may be able to counter this negative messaging with evidence of outreach to minority communities to demonstrate a greater sense of empathy.
Although partisan bias – when an authority transfers discretionary public resources to a politically aligned receiver − has been extensively studied, less is known about how this practice is affected by the voting regime − compulsory or voluntary voting. In this article, I study partisan bias in Chile, using administrative data of transfers from the central authority to local governments, highlighting two relevant scope conditions: the electoral cycle, and electoral uncertainty caused by the adoption of voluntary voting. I found strong evidence of partisan bias, especially in election years and in electorally riskier municipalities. This suggests that the uncertainty introduced by this electoral reform induced politicians to allocate a large share of resources to risky municipalities, because such resources would play a more significant role in the electoral outcome. Overall, these results imply that voluntary voting has a large impact on the way that resources are allocated across subnational units.
We analyze the results of a neighbor-to-neighbor, grassroots get-out-the-vote (GOTV) drive in Virginia, in which unpaid volunteers were encouraged to contact at least three nearby registered voters who were likely co-partisans yet relatively unlikely to vote in the 2017 state election. To measure the campaign’s effectiveness, we used a pairwise randomization design whereby each volunteer was assigned to one randomly selected member of the most geographically proximate pair of voters. Because some volunteers unexpectedly signed up to participate outside their home districts, we analyze the volunteers who adhered to the original hyper-local program design separately from those who did not. We find that the volunteers in the original program design drove a statistically significant 2.3% increase in turnout, which was concentrated in the first voter pair assigned to each volunteer. We discuss implications for the study and design of future GOTV efforts.
How accessible are polling locations in Canada? This article explores, for the first time in the Canadian context, the distance that voters may travel to get to their polling stations. It assembles a new set of data from the province of Ontario, mapping the distance between polling locations and a representative point in the polling division, using a variety of measures, including walking, driving and public transit times. It estimates the relationship between these distances and travel times and socio-demographic characteristics of each polling division, finding noteworthy relationships between these distances and the percentage of minority populations (both immigrant and Indigenous) in the polling division. This article also presents a potential negative, but nonlinear, relationship between distances and travel times and turnout, contributing to our understanding of how voters’ rational calculus of voting may be related to the locations of polling stations.
This article examines the effect of high school civic education on voter turnout in adulthood by integrating extensive academic transcript data on social studies and civic coursework into a large-scale, longitudinal survey of a nationally representative sample of adolescents. In an initial series of regression models, civics courses appear to have an effect on turnout in adulthood. However, after accounting for individual and family attributes, civic education has a fairly limited effect on turnout, though several measures have statistically significant effects even in the presence of controls. Interestingly, the study finds no support for the idea that high school courses that focus on service learning, civic skills development or political issues increase turnout in adulthood, which is contrary to expectations from the resource model of participation. After subjecting the civic effects that persist after accounting for controls to additional scrutiny by using family fixed-effects models that account for all observed and unobserved influences shared by siblings in the same family (for example, socialization, predispositions, etc.), the evidence suggests that there is a null relationship between civic education and turnout; the best-case scenario is that any civic education effects that do exist are likely very small. The idea that additional civics training will help to substantially elevate voter turnout appears to be overly optimistic.
This chapter provides and overview of the book and uses the case of the 2013 election reform bill in North Carolina to illustrate the key arguments of the manuscript. Partisan majorities in states often change laws regarding the ballot format to help them remain in power. This chapter also describes the basic ballot types used in the U.S. and summarizes the findings of each chapter.
This chapter provides detailed case studies of recent ballot reform efforts in Michigan and North Carolina. These states have detailed data on the level of straight ticket voting by county. These data are used to demonstrate how county characteristics such as race, ethnicity, and poverty interact with straight ticket voting and ballot rolloff. We find a strong connection between straight-ticket voting, minority populations, and ballot rolloff. This chapter concludes with analysis of recent changes in Iowa and West Virginia. The findings for Iowa suggest that the effects of ballot design changes are muted in areas that have lower proportions of non-white residents and that are less densely populated.
Previous studies have stressed the role of a child's family environment for future political participation. This field of research has, however, overlooked that children within the same family have different experiences depending on their birth order. First-borns spend their first years of life without having to compete over their parents' attention and resources, while their younger siblings are born into potential rivalry. We examine differences in turnout depending on birth order, using unique population-wide individual level register data from Sweden and Norway that enables precise within-family estimates. We consistently find that higher birth order entails lower turnout, and that the turnout differential with respect to birth order is stronger when turnout is lower. The link between birth order and turnout holds when we use data from four other, non-Nordic countries. This birth order effect appears to be partly mediated by socio-economic position and attitudinal predispositions.