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Get Out the (Costly) Vote: Institutional Design for Greater Participation


Author Info

  • Dino Gerardi
  • Margaret A. McConnell
  • Julian Romero
  • Leeat Yariv


Institutions designed to increase turnout appeal to democratic sentiments but are highly debated as they entail two potentially countervailing effects. While generating more pieces of information, they may decrease the average voter's information quality. We examine two commonly discussed institutions inducing participation: abstention penalties (used in 32 countries around the world) and lotteries providing a prize to one randomly chosen participant (as proposed on the 2006 Arizona ballot). We analyze a benchmark rational choice model in which voters vary in their information quality and participation is costly. We illustrate that both institutions can improve collective outcomes, though lotteries are a more effective instrument asymptotically. In an array of lab experiments we empirically assess institutional performance. We find strong evidence for selective participation: lab voters participate more when better informed or when institutionally induced. However, because subjects vote more often than the equilibrium predictions, these institutions entail less welfare benefits than theory prescribes. Lotteries do fare better than fines, suggesting that they may be a useful alternative to commonly used compulsory voting schemes.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Collegio Carlo Alberto in its series Carlo Alberto Notebooks with number 121.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:121

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Related research

Keywords: Costly voting; Election lotteries; Laboratory elections;

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Cited by:
  1. John Duffy & Sourav Bhattacharya & Sun-Tak Kim, 2012. "Compulsory versus Voluntary Voting: An Experimental Study," Working Papers 492, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Aug 2013.
  2. Sourav Bhattacharya & John Duffy & Sun-Tak Kim, 2011. "Compulsory and Voluntary Voting Mechanisms: An Experimental Study," Working Papers 456, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Mar 2013.
  3. John Duffy & Alexander Matros, 2012. "On the Use of Fines and Lottery Prizes to Increase Voter Turnout," Working Papers 494, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised Oct 2013.
  4. Jens Großer & Michael Seebauer, 2013. "The curse of uninformed voting: An experimental study," Working Paper Series in Economics 64, University of Cologne, Department of Economics.
  5. Gianmarco León, 2013. "Turnout, Political Preferences and Information: Experimental Evidence from Peru," Working Papers 691, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.


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