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Identifying the Effect of Election Closeness on Voter Turnout: Evidence from Swiss Referenda

Author

Listed:
  • Leonardo Bursztyn
  • Davide Cantoni
  • Patricia Funk
  • Felix Schönenberger
  • Noam Yuchtman

Abstract

We provide evidence of a causal effect of anticipated election closeness on voter turnout, exploiting the precise day-level timing of the release of Swiss national poll results for high-stakes federal referenda, and a novel dataset on daily mail-in voting for the canton of Geneva. Using an event study design, we find that the release of a closer poll causes voter turnout to sharply rise immediately after poll release, with no differential pre-release turnout levels or trends. We provide evidence that polls affect turnout by providing information shaping beliefs about closeness: first, the introduction of Swiss polls had significantly larger effects in politically unrepresentative municipalities, where locally available signals of closeness are less correlated with national closeness. Second, the effects of close polls are largest where newspapers report on them most. Counterfactual exercises suggest the importance of polls and reporting on polls in shaping election outcomes.

Suggested Citation

  • Leonardo Bursztyn & Davide Cantoni & Patricia Funk & Felix Schönenberger & Noam Yuchtman, 2017. "Identifying the Effect of Election Closeness on Voter Turnout: Evidence from Swiss Referenda," NBER Working Papers 23490, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:23490
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    2. Gersbach, Hans & Mamageishvili, Akaki & Tejada, Oriol, 2019. "The Effect of Handicaps on Turnout for Large Electorates: An Application to Assessment Voting," CEPR Discussion Papers 13921, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Thiemo Fetzer, 2019. "Did Austerity Cause Brexit?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 109(11), pages 3849-3886, November.
    4. Hessami, Zohal & Resnjanskij, Sven, 2019. "Complex ballot propositions, individual voting behavior, and status quo bias," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 82-101.
    5. Besley, Timothy & Fetzer, Thiemo & Mueller, Hannes, 2019. "Terror and Tourism: The Economic Consequences of Media Coverage," CAGE Online Working Paper Series 449, Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE).
    6. Garz, Marcel & Sood, Gaurav & Stone, Daniel F. & Wallace, Justin, 2020. "The supply of media slant across outlets and demand for slant within outlets: Evidence from US presidential campaign news," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 63(C).
    7. Brownback, Andy & Novotny, Aaron, 2018. "Social desirability bias and polling errors in the 2016 presidential election," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 74(C), pages 38-56.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism

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