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The Downsian model of electoral participation: Formal theory and empirical analysis of the constituency size effect


  • Stephen Hansen
  • Thomas Palfrey
  • Howard Rosenthal


This paper applies a game-theoretic model of participation under uncertainty to investigate the negative relationship between constituency size and voter turnout rates: theconstituency size effect. We find that this theoretical model accounts for almost all of the variation in turnout due to size in cross sectional data from school budget referenda. Copyright Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1987

Suggested Citation

  • Stephen Hansen & Thomas Palfrey & Howard Rosenthal, 1987. "The Downsian model of electoral participation: Formal theory and empirical analysis of the constituency size effect," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 52(1), pages 15-33, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:52:y:1987:i:1:p:15-33
    DOI: 10.1007/BF00116941

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:77:y:1983:i:03:p:675-689_24 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. repec:cup:apsrev:v:62:y:1968:i:01:p:25-42_11 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:cup:apsrev:v:68:y:1974:i:02:p:525-536_11 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:cup:apsrev:v:79:y:1985:i:01:p:62-78_22 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Gary Chamberlain, 1980. "Analysis of Covariance with Qualitative Data," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 47(1), pages 225-238.
    7. Jonathan Silberman & Garey Durden, 1975. "The rational behavior theory of voter participation," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 101-108, September.
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    Cited by:

    1. Marco Battaglini & Rebecca B. Morton & Thomas R. Palfrey, 2010. "The Swing Voter's Curse in the Laboratory," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 61-89.
    2. Arianna Degan & Antonio Merlo, 2007. "A Structural Model of Turnout and Voting in Multiple Elections, Fourth Version," PIER Working Paper Archive 07-025, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 01 Aug 2007.
    3. Arianna Degan & Antonio Merlo, 2011. "A Structural Model Of Turnout And Voting In Multiple Elections," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 209-245, April.
    4. Stephen Coate & Michael Conlin, 2002. "Voter Turnout: Theory and Evidence from Texas Liquor Referenda," NBER Working Papers 8720, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Alan Gerber & Mitchell Hoffman & John Morgan & Collin Raymond, 2017. "One in a Million: Field Experiments on Perceived Closeness of the Election and Voter Turnout," NBER Working Papers 23071, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    6. Claus Michelsen & Peter Boenisch & Benny Geys, 2014. "(De)Centralization and voter turnout: theory and evidence from German municipalities," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 159(3), pages 469-483, June.
    7. Coate, Stephen & Conlin, Michael & Moro, Andrea, 2008. "The performance of pivotal-voter models in small-scale elections: Evidence from Texas liquor referenda," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 582-596, April.
    8. Aranson Peter H., 1990. "Rational Ignorance In Politics, Economics And Law," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-18, January.
    9. Arianna Degan & Antonio Merlo, 2004. "Do Citizens Vote Sincerely (If They Vote at All)? Theory and Evidence from U. S. National Elections," PIER Working Paper Archive 04-014, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.

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