Year of Publication

2017

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Arts and Sciences

Department

Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Emily Beaulieu

Abstract

Political participation is paramount to the well being of a democracy. Concerns over low turnout rates across the world have prompted a growing body of research on the potential for political institutions to foster electoral participation. Amongst those institutions, compulsory voting is found to have the largest and most robust impact on maximizing participation rates. Under this system, eligible citizens are required by law to go to the polls on election day, and are subject to penalties if they fail to do so. Beyond its positive impact on turnout, we know far less about what other aspects of the democratic process are influenced by compulsory voting. The main goal of this dissertation is to inform the debate on how and when the effects of compulsory voting extend beyond voter turnout. Specifically, I draw on numerous sources of survey data across the world to investigate the impact of compulsory voting (herein CV) on three distinct political aspects: citizen attitudes towards voting, political engagement, and elite campaigning.

The first step in understanding the broader effects of CV is to examine whether it influences citizens’ perceptions of the democratic act of voting. In chapter two, I develop a detailed theoretical framework that highlights whether compulsory voting increases citizens’ feelings of civic duty, or generates resentment amongst eligible voters. I also argue that the impact of CV on attitudes could be neutral—by devaluing the act of voting and making individuals indifferent towards the democratic process. Using a hierarchical modeling technique and survey data from Latin America, I show that voters living under CV are no more likely to report either increased feelings of civic duty or higher rates of resentment, compared to their counterparts under voluntary voting. Instead, individuals who are required to turn out by law are slightly more likely to feel indifferent towards electoral participation. Then, chapter three takes advantage of the recent abolition of compulsory voting in Chile to evaluate whether CV laws promote political engagement beyond election day. An empirical analysis of public opinion surveys over a 10-year period pre and post reform shows that rates of political engagement—specifically, watching and reading political news and discussing politics with family—are significantly higher under compulsory than under voluntary voting, and this is especially the case for those with lower levels of education. These findings suggest that when presented with the task of turning out at the polls, citizens seem to incur the extra costs necessary to make an informed decision.

Finally, in chapter four I investigate whether mandatory voting laws alter the way political parties decide to engage in outreach during political campaigns. Using a comprehensive dataset of post-election surveys of over 40,000 individuals in 27 different countries, I find that political elites do adjust to their institutional context—when voting is mandatory, parties invest in campaign outreach at similar levels (not less) than when voting is voluntary, and that this outreach is much less skewed towards individuals of higher socioeconomic status compared to when voting is voluntary. I also show evidence that parties under CV are more likely to engage in persuasion rather than mobilization via party outreach. Taken together, this dissertation provides a comprehensive analysis of how maximizing electoral participation through a legal requirement to vote shapes individual and elite behavior, contributing to our understanding of the implications of political institutions for the quality of representative democracy worldwide.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

https://doi.org/10.13023/ETD.2017.244

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