Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 July 2017
This article challenges the conventional wisdom that democratic consolidation depresses voter turnout. Studying democratic legislative elections held worldwide between 1939 and 2015, it explains why voting rates in new democracies decrease when they do, how much they decrease, and how this phenomenon relates to the voter decline observed in established democracies. The article identifies three main sources of decline. The first and most important is the democratization context. When democratizations are opposition-driven or occur in electorally mobilized dictatorships, voter turnout is strongly boosted in the founding democratic elections. As time passes and the mobilizing democratization context loses salience, voting rates return to normal, which translates into turnout declines. The second source is the democratic consolidation context, which seems to depress voter turnout only in post-Communist democracies. Finally, new democracies mirror established democracies in that their voting rates have been declining since the 1970s, irrespective of the two previous mechanisms.
The author thanks Vincent Arel-Bundock, Mauro Barisione, André Blais, Ramona Coman, Pascal Delwitt, Pascal Doray-Demers, Jean-Yves Dormagen, Mark Franklin, Claire Greenstein, Vlad Gross, Eric Guntermann, Antoine Jardin, Hans-Dieter Klingemann, Martin Kroh, Lucas Leemann, Nonna Mayer, Jean-Benoit Pilet, Jan Rovny, Nicolas Sauger, Luca Tomini, Vincent Tiberj, Milada A. Vachudova, Till Weber, and the editors and anonymous reviewers of the APSR for insightful comments on earlier drafts of the article. He gratefully acknowledges financial support of the Fondation nationale des sciences politiques (FNSP). When conducting this research, the author benefited from an intellectually stimulating and friendly environment at the Centre d’études européennes (CEE), Sciences Po, Paris; the European General Studies Programme, College of Europe, Bruges; the Research Chair in Electoral Studies, Département de Science Politique, Université de Montréal; and the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship (CSDC), Québec.