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Compulsory Voting and Dissatisfaction with Democracy

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 April 2016


Compulsory voting is often linked to pro-democracy orientations in the public. However, there is reason to question the strength and universality of this link. Engaging research on the effects of coercion and punishment, this article argues that forced participation inflates the tendency of those with negative orientations towards democracy to see the democratic system as illegitimate, and to be dissatisfied with democracy. The study finds support for these expectations in analyses of three separate cross-national surveys and a natural experiment. Compulsory voting heightens dissatisfaction with democracy within key segments of the population.

© Cambridge University Press 2016 

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Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia (email: Previous versions of this article were presented at the 2014 Annual Conference of the Midwest Political Science Association and in the Department of Political Science at the University of Alabama in 2015. The author thanks participants at those presentations for helpful comments. The author also thanks Abby Córdova, Nicholas Kerr, Eric McGhee, Jennifer Oser, Alisa Rogers, Kerri Anne Watson and Bryce Williams-Tuggle for useful feedback. Finally, the author thanks the Latin American Public Opinion Project, Latinobarómetro Corporation and the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems the for making the data available. Due to space constraints, the introductory material, literature review, theoretical logic and concluding comments are presented here in an abbreviated form, and an expanded version of each is available in Section 15 of the Appendix. Data replication sets are available at and online appendices are available at


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