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Essays on the Political Economy of Voter Turnout

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

This thesis explores the theoretical and empirical questions related to the political economy and political behaviour of voter turnout. The first chapter motivates the research with an empirical overview of recent trends in political participation motivating the importance of its study. The second and the third chapter explore empirically and theoretically whether economic policy drives individual level turnout and whether this effect varies for high and low-income voters. Using the 2012 U.S. presidential election, I find empirical evidence that divergence in economic policy across candidates increases individual-level turnout and that this effect is stronger for high income voters. I complement these empirical findings with a theoretical framework showing how evaluating the impacts of economic policy through one’s relative income affects voter turnout in elections in Chapter 3. The fourth chapter empirically explores the potential of multi-candidates elections as a method to increase voter turnout. We give new insights on the topic in applying a regression discontinuity design (RDD) to a large dataset of elections in France since 1978, where candidates that pass a certain vote share threshold in the first round can participate in the second round. We find that the increase in the number of candidates consists of two effects - mobilising part of the electorate through an increase in turnout and decreasing ‘protest voting’ by creating a sense of representation of part of the electorate who did not feel represented by the first two candidates. Finally, in the fifth chapter the research takes a historical perspective by analysing the conditions that explain the adoption of compulsory voting in countries that adopted it. We argue that old conservative parties facing strong mobilisation from new leftist parties used compulsory voting as an institutional mechanism to maximise their political survival. Conservative parties designed compulsory voting as a social norm expecting that this would mobilise their traditional voters at a higher rate than its left opponents. We empirically confirm these hypotheses using a historical panel dataset that covers elections from 1880 to 1939 in Western democracies as well as a dataset using district level data in Belgium between 1892 and 1894.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Jun 2019

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