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Social Capital and Voter Turnout: Evidence from Saint's Day Fiestas in Mexico

Abstract

Social capital and community activity are thought to increase voter turnout, but reverse causation and omitted variables may bias the results of previous studies. This article exploits saint's day fiestas in Mexico as a natural experiment to test this causal relationship. Saint's day fiestas provide temporary but large shocks to the connectedness and trust within a community, and the timing of these fiestas is quasi-random. For both cross-municipality and within-municipality estimates, saint's day fiestas occurring near an election decrease turnout by 2.5 to 3.5 percentage points. So community activities that generate social capital can inhibit political participation. These findings may give pause to scholars and policy makers who assume that such community activity and social capital will improve the performance of democracy.

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Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles; and Department of Government, Harvard University, respectively (email: fowler@fas.harvard.edu). Both authors contributed equally, and they wish to thank Alberto Alesina, Steve Ansolabehere, David Broockman, Gloria Chao, Stephen Coate, Ana De La O, Ryan Enos, Jonathan Gruber, Andy Hall, Jens Hainmueller, Eitan Hersh, Christopher Karpowitz, Stephen Knack, Gabe Lenz, Jeff Lewis, Krista Loose, Michele Margolis, Nathan Nunn, Kay Schlozman, Dhavan Shah, Dina Sherzer, Joel Sherzer, Jim Snyder, Michael Tesler, Gelin Valencia and seminar participants at MIT for their comments and support. Supplementary material for data replication and an online appendix are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123412000713.

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5 While numerous and conflicting definitions of social capital exist in the literature, we restrict ourselves to this specific definition. Previous scholars make distinctions between bridging vs. bonding social capital as well as the relative importance of connectedness v. trust. We are agnostic in regard to these debates, and our identification strategy exploits variation in both connectedness and trust along with both bridging and bonding social capital.

6 Stolle Dietlind, ‘Bowling Together, Bowling Alone: The Development of Generalized Trust in Voluntary Associations’, Political Psychology, 19 (1998), 497525

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19 Verba, Schlozman and Brady, Voice and Equality.

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26 Later in the article, we present an estimate which is not sensitive to this assumption. By exploiting an exogenous change in the election date, we test for the effects of increased social capital within municipalities.

27 E-mail addresses were obtained from online directories of the 68 dioceses and 18 archdioceses in Mexico. Links to each diocesan website are located at http://www.cem.org.mx/diocesis/.

28 All responses have been translated from Spanish.

29 Lastra Yolanda, Sherzer Dina and Sherzer Joel, Adoring the Saints: Fiestas in Central Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2009)

30 Putnam Robert, ‘Foreword’, in Christiaan Grootaert and Thierry van Bastelaer, eds, The Role of Social Capital in Development: An Empirical Assessment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)

31 Census data were downloaded from the web site of the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografía, the Mexican government agency which administers the census. Electoral data were downloaded from the web site of the Instituto Federal Electoral, the Mexican government agency charged with administering elections and certifying the results.

32 We identified single parish municipalities by collecting online diocese directories and determining which municipalities are served by only a single church.

33 The total number of observations is less than 325 × 7 = 2,275 because turnout data is missing in one case, and nineteen cases were dropped because the reported turnout was greater than the voting age population. Subsequent results are robust to the inclusion of these municipalities.

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37 These numbers are approximate, because the election date does move slightly from year to year. However, the only big change occurred between 1994 and 1997, so we simplify our analysis here to designate three groups of municipalities.

38 Normally, it is tricky to interpret the coefficients in interactive models directly. However, since we have coded the fiesta treatment and log population to range from 0 to 1, we can interpret the coefficient on Fiesta in column 2 as the effect of the fiesta treatment for the smallest communities in our dataset.

39 Putnam, Bowling Alone; Robert Putnam and David Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010).

40 Gerber Alan, Gruber Jonathan and Hungerman Daniel, ‘Does Church Attendance Cause People to Vote? Using Blue Laws’ Repeal to Estimate the Effect of Religiosity on Voter Turnout’ (Cambridge, Mass.: NBER Working Paper No. 14303, 2008)

41 Lipset Seymour Martin, ‘Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy’, American Political Science Review, 53 (1959), 69105

42 Tavits Margit, ‘Making Democracy Work More? Exploring the Linkage between Social Capital and Government Performance’, Political Research Quarterly, 59 (2006), 211225

43 Condon, ‘The Effect of Social Capital on Voter Turnout’.

44 Stoker Laura and Jennings M. Kent, ‘Life-Cycle Transitions and Political Participation: The Case of Marriage’, American Political Science Review, 89 (1995), 421433

45 Addonizio Elizabeth, Green Donald and Glaser James, ‘Putting the Party Back into Politics’, PS: Political Science and Politics, 40 (2007), 721727

46 Verba, Schlozman and Brady, Voice and Equality.

47 Becker, ‘A Theory of the Allocation of Time’, Economic Journal, 75 (1965), 493517

48 Mutz, ‘The Consequences of Cross-Cutting Networks for Political Participation’.

49 This quote was taken from email correspondence with Joel and Dina Sherzer.

50 Riker and Ordeshook, ‘A Theory of the Calculus of Voting’.

51 Lastra, Sherzer and Sherzer, Adoring the Saints, p. 116

52 Verba, Schlozman and Brady, Voice and Equality.

* Department of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles; and Department of Government, Harvard University, respectively (email: ). Both authors contributed equally, and they wish to thank Alberto Alesina, Steve Ansolabehere, David Broockman, Gloria Chao, Stephen Coate, Ana De La O, Ryan Enos, Jonathan Gruber, Andy Hall, Jens Hainmueller, Eitan Hersh, Christopher Karpowitz, Stephen Knack, Gabe Lenz, Jeff Lewis, Krista Loose, Michele Margolis, Nathan Nunn, Kay Schlozman, Dhavan Shah, Dina Sherzer, Joel Sherzer, Jim Snyder, Michael Tesler, Gelin Valencia and seminar participants at MIT for their comments and support. Supplementary material for data replication and an online appendix are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123412000713.

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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