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Employment, Wages and Voter Turnout

  • Kerwin Kofi Charles
  • Melvin Stephens Jr.

This paper argues that, since activities that provide political information are complementary with leisure, increased labor market activity should lower turnout, but should do so least in prominent elections where information is ubiquitous. Using official county-level voting data and a variety of OLS and TSLS models, we find that increases in wages and employment: reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount; have no effect on Presidential turnout; and raise the share of persons voting in a Presidential election who do not vote on a House of Representative election on the same ballot. We argue that this pattern (which contradicts some previous findings in the literature) can be fully accounted for by an information argument, and is either inconsistent with or not fully explicable by arguments based on citizens' psychological motivations to vote in good or bad times; changes in logistical voting costs; or transitory migration. Using individual-level panel data methods and multiple years' data from the American National Election Study (ANES) we confirm that increases in employment lead to less use of the media and reduced political knowledge, and present associational individual evidence that corroborates our main argument.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17270.

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Date of creation: Aug 2011
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Publication status: published as Kerwin Kofi Charles & Melvin Stephens Jr., 2013. "Employment, Wages, and Voter Turnout," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(4), pages 111-43, October.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17270
Note: LS POL
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  1. David Dreyer Lassen, 2004. "The Effect of Information on Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Natural Experiment," EPRU Working Paper Series 04-03, Economic Policy Research Unit (EPRU), University of Copenhagen. Department of Economics.
  2. Battaglini, Marco & Morton, Rebecca & Palfrey, Thomas, 2005. "The Swing Voter's Curse in the Laboratory," Papers 03-13-2006, Princeton University, Research Program in Political Economy.
  3. Matsusaka, John G & Palda, Filip, 1999. " Voter Turnout: How Much Can We Explain?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 98(3-4), pages 431-46, March.
  4. Kramer, Gerald H, 1975. "The Effects of Economic Policies on Votes for the Presidency: Some Evidence from Recent Elections: Comment," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 799-800, December.
  5. Abdul Ghafar Noury & Tom Coupé, 2004. "Choosing not to choose: on the link between information and abstention," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/7756, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  6. David Strömberg, 2004. "Radio's Impact on Public Spending," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 189-221, February.
  7. 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, 04.
  8. Timothy J. Feddersen & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 1995. "The Swing Voter's Curse," Discussion Papers 1064, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  9. Eric Brunner & Stephen L. Ross & Ebonya Washington, 2011. "Economics and Policy Preferences: Causal Evidence of the Impact of Economic Conditions on Support for Redistribution and Other Ballot Proposals," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 93(3), pages 888-906, August.
  10. Daron Acemoglu & Amy Finkelstein & Matthew J. Notowidigdo, 2013. "Income and Health Spending: Evidence from Oil Price Shocks," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 95(4), pages 1079-1095, October.
  11. Alan B. Krueger & Andreas Mueller, 2008. "The Lot of the Unemployed: A Time Use Perspective," Working Papers 1062, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  12. Meltzer, Allan H & Vellrath, Marc, 1975. "The Effects of Economic Policies on Votes for the Presidency: Some Evidence from Recent Elections," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 781-98, December.
  13. Dan Black & Kermit Daniel & Seth Sanders, 2002. "The Impact of Economic Conditions on Participation in Disability Programs: Evidence from the Coal Boom and Bust," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(1), pages 27-50, March.
  14. Meltzer, Allan H & Vellrath, Marc, 1975. "The Effects of Economic Policies on Votes for the Presidency: Some Evidence from Recent Elections: Reply," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 803-05, December.
  15. James M. Snyder & David Strömberg, 2010. "Press Coverage and Political Accountability," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(2), pages 355-408, 04.
  16. 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.
  17. Stigler, George J, 1975. "The Effects of Economic Policies on Votes for the Presidency: Some Evidence from Recent Elections: Comment," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 18(3), pages 801-02, December.
  18. Matthew Gentzkow, 2006. "Television and Voter Turnout," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 121(3), pages 931-972, 08.
  19. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135.
  20. Antonio Merlo, 2005. "Whither Political Economy? Theories, Facts and Issues," PIER Working Paper Archive 05-033, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 01 Dec 2005.
  21. Wolfers, Justin, 2002. "Are Voters Rational? Evidence from Gubernatorial Elections," Research Papers 1730, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
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