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A Propensity Score Reweighting Approach to Estimating the Partisan Effects of Full Turnout in American Presidential Elections

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

Thomas L. Brunell
Department of Political Science, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ 86011-5036. e-mail:
John DiNardo
440 Lorch Hall, Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1220. e-mail:


Borrowing an approach from the literature on the economics of discrimination, we estimate the impact of nonvoters on the outcome of presidential elections from 1952–2000 using data from the National Election Study (NES). Our estimates indicate that nonvoters are, on average, slightly more likely to support the Democratic Party. Of the 13 presidential elections between 1952 and 2000 we find no change in the eventual outcome of the election with two possible exceptions: 1980 and 2000. Thus our results are not all that dissimilar from other research on participation. Higher turnout in the form of compulsory voting would not radically change the partisan distribution of the vote. When elections are sufficiently close, however, a two percentage point increase may suffice to affect the outcome. Limitations of the NES data we use suggest that our estimates underestimate the impact of nonparticipation. We also compare our method with other econometric techniques. Finally, using our findings we speculate as to why the Democratic Party fails to undertake widespread “get out the vote” or registration drives.

Research Article
Copyright © Society for Political Methodology 2004 

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