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Republican liberty and compulsory voting


  • Schäfer, Armin


This paper starts from four observations: (1) voter turnout is declining in established democracies; (2) low turnout means socio-economically unequal turnout; (3) compulsory voting is an effective means to increase turnout; (4) even low-turnout countries, however, have neither introduced nor even contemplated a legal obligation to vote. A closer look at the arguments against compulsory voting shows that these draw on assumptions from liberal political theory, which defines freedom negatively as non-interference. This concept of freedom has been challenged by 'neo-republican' writers who, in the neo-Athenian tradition, understand freedom as 'sharing in self-government' and, in the neo-Roman, as 'non-domination.' Both strands of republicanism attach importance to political participation and, it will be argued, offer reasons to support compulsory voting. The purpose of this paper is to show that opponents to mandatory voting have to rely on liberal assumptions that have not remained uncontested and to outline a republican defense of equal participation.

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  • Schäfer, Armin, 2011. "Republican liberty and compulsory voting," MPIfG Discussion Paper 11/17, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies.
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:mpifgd:1117

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    References listed on IDEAS

    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. Alberto Chong & Mauricio Olivera, 2008. "Does Compulsory Voting Help Equalize Incomes?," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 20(3), pages 391-415, November.
    3. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    4. Kohler, Ulrich, 2009. "Estimating the potential impact of nonvoters on outcomes of parlimentary elections in proportional systems with the applications to German national elections from 1949 to 2005," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Inequality and Social Integration SP I 2009-206, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
    5. Bryan Caplan, 2007. "Introduction to The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies," Introductory Chapters,in: The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies Princeton University Press.
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