Politics 4

Political Participation + Voter Turnout

Political participation - the activities of citizens intended to influence state structures, public authorities and policy-making. It establishes the link between the general public and the political elites. Relates to many different activities: voting, running for office, writing petitions, protesting, organising and participating in trade unions, and interacting with others online and offline. 

Modes of political participatio:

  • Where it takes place - in public places; as communication with policy-makers; involvement in the electoral process.
  • Intensity of involvement - time and resources
  • Riskiness of participation - can be more costly depending on the regime in which it occurs.

Voter turnout - the number of people casting a vote which can either be as a proportion of all citizens eligible to vote, or just those on the electoral register.

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Compulsory voting

Rational choice theory argues that compulsory voting raises the cost of failing to vote. Countries with compulsory voting tend to have the highest turnout e.g. Australia, Luxembourg, Belgium all have close to over over 90% voter turnout. 

Blais (2006) - across Western democracies, voter turnout rises by 10 to 15% with compulsory voting. 

Lijphart (1966) has strongly proposed compulsory voting to solve America’s low turnout (just above 40%).

Franklin (1999) argues against this in that low turnout is symptomatic of a greater problem with the salience of American elections. He posits that there is not a sufficient difference between Republicans and Democrats to cause a mobilisation of voters and voting doesn’t result in great change e.g. Hillary Clinton. May be a higher turnout but will this change anything?

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Safe seats - lack of competition

Aldrich (1993) - Rational choice theory views voting as low cost, low benefit, so the choice to vote is marginal. Safe seats - higher cost, lower benefit. 

Powell (1986) analysed American turnout comparatively and found that ‘nationally competitive districts’ caused higher turnout than single-member districts. 

2017 General Election - no relationship between turnout and ‘seat safeness’. 418 of 650 constituencies were held by same party in last 3 elections - only slightly lower than the rest of constituencies that had changed parties at least once in the same period.  

Points to a greater difference between proportional representation systems and majoritarian (single-member) systems. Countries with PR tend to have higher turnout e.g. Belgium, Denmark, Sweden.

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Election frequency - voter fatigue

Richard Boyd proposed the election frequency hypothesis (1981) - the more often elections are held, the less likely an individual will vote. Candidates have less resources to mobilise voters - need to be left for national elections. Rational choice theory; with each election, this presents a greater cost to an individual. E.g. Boyd (1989) found that primaries reduce turnouts of the elections studied by around 5 percentage points. 

AND, greater levels of gov and therefore elections cause a lower turnout. 

Reif and Schmitt (1980) proposed the ‘second-order elections’ theory in that there is ‘less at stake’ in the EU elections as they are not the main decision-making body. They are seen as less significant (less campaigning - most don’t realise they’re being held) and so experience lower turnout. Can also explain local elections. 

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