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Rethinking the Partisan Effects of Higher Turnout: So What's the Question?


  • Grofman, Bernard
  • Owen, Guillermo
  • Collet, Christian


Controversy persists over the link between turnout and the likelihood of success of Democratic candidates (e.g., DeNardo, 1980, 1986; Zimmer, 1985; Tucker and Vedlitz, 1986; Piven and Cloward, 1988; Texeira, 1992; Radcliff, 1994, 1995; Erikson, 1995). The authors argue that the participants in this debate have largely been talking past one another because of a failure to distinguish three quite different questions. The first question is:'Are low turnout voters more likely to vote Democratic than high turnout voters?' The second question is: 'Should we expect that elections in which turnout is higher are ones in which we can expect Democrats to have done better?' The third question is the counterfactual: 'If turnout were to have increased in some given election, would Democrats have done better?' The authors show the logical independence of the first two questions from one another and from the third, and argue that previous researchers have failed to recognize this logical independence--sometimes thinking they were answering question three when in fact they were answering either question one or question two. Reviewing previous research, they find that the answer to the first question once was YES but, for more recent elections at the presidential level, now appears to be NO, while, for congressional and legislative elections, the answer to the second question appears generally to be NO. However, the third question is essentially unanswerable absent an explicit model of why and how turnout can be expected to increase, and/or analyses of individual level panel data. Thus, the cross-sectional and pooled data analyses of previous research are of almost no value in addressing this third question. Copyright 1999 by Kluwer Academic Publishers

Suggested Citation

  • Grofman, Bernard & Owen, Guillermo & Collet, Christian, 1999. "Rethinking the Partisan Effects of Higher Turnout: So What's the Question?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 99(3-4), pages 357-376, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:99:y:1999:i:3-4:p:357-76

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    Cited by:

    1. Mueller, Dennis C. & Stratmann, Thomas, 2003. "The economic effects of democratic participation," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(9-10), pages 2129-2155, September.
    2. Martins, Rodrigo & Veiga, Francisco José, 2014. "Does voter turnout affect the votes for the incumbent government?," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 274-286.
    3. Alessandro Sforza, 2014. "The Weather Effect: estimating the effect of voter turnout on electoral outcomes in Italy," Working Papers w201405, Banco de Portugal, Economics and Research Department.
    4. Jean-François Godbout, 2013. "Turnout and presidential coattails in congressional elections," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 157(1), pages 333-356, October.
    5. Artés, Joaquín, 2014. "The rain in Spain: Turnout and partisan voting in Spanish elections," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 126-141.

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