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Vote Buying or Turnout Buying? Machine Politics and the Secret Ballot


Scholars typically understand vote buying as offering particularistic benefits in exchange for vote choices. This depiction of vote buying presents a puzzle: with the secret ballot, what prevents individuals from accepting rewards and then voting as they wish? An alternative explanation, which I term “turnout buying,” suggests why parties might offer rewards even if they cannot monitor vote choices. By rewarding unmobilized supporters for showing up at the polls, parties can activate their passive constituencies. Because turnout buying targets supporters, it only requires monitoring whether individuals vote. Much of what scholars interpret as vote buying may actually be turnout buying. Reward targeting helps to distinguish between these strategies. Whereas Stokes's vote-buying model predicts that parties target moderate opposers, a model of turnout buying predicts that they target strong supporters. Although the two strategies coexist, empirical tests suggest that Argentine survey data in Stokes 2005 are more consistent with turnout buying.

Corresponding author
Simeon Nichter is Ph.D. candidate, Travers Department of Political Science, 210 Barrows Hall, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720-1950 (
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American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
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