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Voter Turnout: How Much Can We Explain?

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  • Matsusaka, John G
  • Palda, Filip

Abstract

This paper evaluates the ability of common explanatory variables to predict who votes. Logit voting regressions are estimated with more than three dozen explanatory variables using survey and aggregate data for the 1979, 1980, 1984, and 1988 Canadian national elections. The authors find that the usual demographic variables such as age and education, and contextual variables such as campaign spending have significant effects on the probability of voting, but the models have low R-square's and cannot predict who votes more accurately than random guessing. They also estimate regressions using past voting behavior as a predictor of current behavior, and find that although the explanatory power rises it remains low. This suggests that the difficulty in explaining turnout arises primarily from omitted time-varying variables. In some sense, then, it appears that whether or not a person votes is to a large degree random. The evidence provides support for the rational voter theory, and is problematic for psycho/sociological approaches. Copyright 1999 by Kluwer Academic Publishers

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  • Matsusaka, John G & Palda, Filip, 1999. "Voter Turnout: How Much Can We Explain?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 98(3-4), pages 431-446, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:98:y:1999:i:3-4:p:431-46
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Glazer, Amihai, 1992. "An Expressive Voting Theory of Strikes," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 30(4), pages 733-741, October.
    2. Timothy Feddersen & Alvaro Sandroni, 2006. "A Theory of Participation in Elections," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(4), pages 1271-1282, September.
    3. Martin J. Osborne & Al Slivinski, 1996. "A Model of Political Competition with Citizen-Candidates," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(1), pages 65-96.
    4. John Ashworth & Benny Geys & Bruno Heyndels, 2006. "Everyone likes a winner: An empirical test of the effect of electoral closeness on turnout in a context of expressive voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 128(3), pages 383-405, September.
    5. Stephen Coate & Michael Conlin, 2004. "A Group Rule–Utilitarian Approach to Voter Turnout: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1476-1504, December.
    6. Amihai Glazer, 2008. "Optimal Contracts When a Worker Envies His Boss," Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 24(1), pages 120-137, May.
    7. Adams, James, 1999. "Policy Divergence in Multicandidate Probabilistic Spatial Voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 100(1-2), pages 103-122, July.
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