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Political Institutions and Voter Turnout in the Industrial Democracies

  • Robert W. Jackman (a1)

Differences in voter turnout among industrial democracies are a function of political institutions and electoral law. Specifically, the presence of nationally competitive electoral districts provides incentives for parties and candidates to mobilize voters everywhere, thereby increasing turnout. Disproportionality in the translation of votes into legislative seats provides a disincentive to voting, which lowers turnout. Multipartyism assigns elections a less decisive role in government formation, depressing turnout. By generating more decisive governments, unicameralism provides a clearer link between elections and legislation, increasing turnout. Finally, mandatory voting laws produce a disincentive to not vote. Empirical analyses of average voter-turnout levels in the 1970s and 1960s across 19 democracies are consistent with these expectations, although Switzerland and the United States appear to be outliers. The results have major implications for the way we interpret national differences in voter-turnout rates.

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