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


  • 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Dino Gerardi & Margaret A. McConnell & Julian Romero & Leeat Yariv, 2009. "Get Out the (Costly) Vote: Institutional Design for Greater Participation," Carlo Alberto Notebooks 121, Collegio Carlo Alberto.
  • Handle: RePEc:cca:wpaper:121

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    Cited by:

    1. repec:pit:wpaper:456 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. John Duffy & Alexander Matros, 2014. "On the Use of Fines and Lottery Prizes to Increase Voter Turnout," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 34(2), pages 966-975.
    3. Emanuele Bracco & Federico Revelli, 2017. "Concurrent Elections and Political Accountability: Evidence from Italian Local Elections," Working papers 56, Società Italiana di Economia Pubblica.
    4. León, Gianmarco, 2017. "Turnout, political preferences and information: Experimental evidence from Peru," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 56-71.
    5. repec:pit:wpaper:494 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Justin Mattias Valasek, 2012. "Get Out The Vote: How Encouraging Voting Changes Political Outcomes," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 24(3), pages 346-373, November.
    7. 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.
    8. repec:pit:wpaper:492 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Costly voting; Election lotteries; Laboratory elections;

    JEL classification:

    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D02 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Institutions: Design, Formation, Operations, and Impact
    • D70 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - General


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