Skip to main content

Compulsory Voting and Income Inequality: Evidence for Lijphart's Proposition from Venezuela

  • John M. Carey (a1) and Yusaku Horiuchi (a2)

What difference does it make if the state makes people vote? The question is central to normative debates about the rights and duties of citizens in a democracy, and to contemporary policy debates in a number of Latin American countries over what actions states should take to encourage electoral participation. Focusing on a rare case of abolishing compulsory voting in Venezuela, this article shows that not forcing people to vote yielded a more unequal distribution of income. The evidence supports Arend Lijphart's claim, advanced in his 1996 presidential address to the American Political Science Association, that compulsory voting can offset class bias in turnout and, in turn, contribute to the equality of influence.

Hide All
Abadie, Alberto, and Gardeazabal, Javier. 2003. The Economic Costs of Conflict: a Case Study of the Basque Country. American Economic Review 93 1: 113–32.
Abadie, Alberto, Diamond, Alexis, and Hainmueller, Jens. 2010. Synthetic Control Methods for Comparative Case Studies: Estimating the Effect of California's Tobacco Control Program. Journal of the American Statistical Association 105 490: 493505.
Abadie, Alberto, Diamond, Alexis, and Hainmueller, Jens. 2015. Comparative Politics and the Synthetic Control Method. American Journal of Political Science 59 2: 495510.
Albertus, Michael. 2016. The Role of Subnational Politicians in Distributive Politics: Political Bias in Venezuela's Land Reform under Chávez. Comparative Political Studies 48 13: 16671710.
Austen-Smith, David. 2000. Redistributing Income under Proportional Representation. Journal of Political Economy 108 6: 1235–69.
Baker, Andy, and Greene, Kenneth F.. 2011. The Latin American Left's Mandate: Free-Market Policies and Issue Voting in New Democracies. World Politics 63 1: 4377.
Baloyra, Enrique, and Torres, Arístides. 1983. Batoba 83. Nationwide poll (N = 1,789) conducted in Venezuela by the Gallup Institute.
Baloyra, Enrique A., and Martz, John D.. 1979. Political Attitudes in Venezuela: Societal Cleavages and Political Opinion. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Bechtel, Michael M., Hangartner, Dominik, and Schmid, Lukas. 2015. Direct Democracy, Turnout, and the Public Policy Effects of Compulsory Voting. American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming.
Buxton, Julia. 2003. Economic Policy and the Rise of Hugo Chávez. In Venezuelan Politics in the Chávez Era, ed. Ellner, Steve and Hellinger, Daniel. Boulder: Lynne Reinner. 113–30.
Canache, Damarys. 2002. Venezuela: Public Opinion and Protest in a Fragile Democracy. Coral Gables: North-South Center Press, University of Miami.
Card, David, and Krueger, Alan B.. 1994. Minimum Wages and Employment: a Case Study of the Fast-Food Industry in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. American Economic Review 84 4: 772–93.
Carlin, Ryan E., and Love, Gregory J.. 2015. Who Is the Latin American Voter? In Carlin et al. 2015. 3160.
Carlin, Ryan E., Singer, Matthew M., and Zechmeister, Elizabeth J., eds. 2015. The Latin American Voter: Pursuing Representation and Accountability in Challenging Contexts. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Carreras, Miguel. 2012. The Rise of Outsiders in Latin America, 1980–2010: an Institutionalist Perspective. Comparative Political Studies 45 12: 1451–82.
Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Políticos y Administrativos, y Institución de Opinión Pública (Ciepa). 1993. Encuesta CIEPA/DOXA93. Maracaibo: CIEPA.
Cepaluni, Gabriel, and Daniel Hidalgo, F.. 2016. Compulsory Voting Can Increase Political Inequality: Evidence from Brazil. Political Analysis 24 2: 274–80.
Chang, Eric C.C., Kayser, Mark Andreas, Linzer, Drew A., and Rogowski, Ronald. 2011. Electoral Systems and the Balance of Consumer-Producer Power. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Chong, Alberto, and Olivera, Mauricio. 2008. Does Compulsory Voting Help Equalize Incomes? Economics and Politics 20 3: 391415.
Chow, Gregory C. 1960. Tests of Equality between Sets of Coefficients in Two Linear Regressions. Econometrica 28 3: 591605.
Coppedge, Michael. 1994. Strong Parties and Lame Ducks: Presidential Partyarchy and Factionalism in Venezuela. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Coppedge, Michael. 1994. 1996. Venezuela: The Rise and Fall of Partyarchy. In Constructing Democratic Governance: South America in the 1990s, ed. Domínguez, Jorge I. and Lowenthal, Abraham F.. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 319.
Coppedge, Michael. 1994. 1998. The Dynamic Diversity of Latin American Party Systems. Party Politics 4 4: 547–68.
Corrales, Javier, and Penfold, Michael. 2007. Venezuela: Crowding out the Opposition. Journal of Democracy 18 2: 99113.
Crisp, Brian F. 2000. Democratic Institutional Design: The Powers and Incentives of Venezuelan Politicians and Interest Groups. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Conde, Cuñarro, Mabel, Edith. 2004. Venezuela 1984–1999: 15 años de historia—La Comisión Presidencial para la Reforma del Estado (Copre) como mecanismo de innovación política. Cuestiones Políticas (Universidad de Zulia) 33: 91133.
Di John, Jonathan. 2005. Economic Liberalization, Political Instability, and State Capacity in Venezuela. International Political Science Review 26: 107–24.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper and Row.
Ellis, Andrew, Gratschew, Maria, Pammett, Jon H., and Thiessen, Erin. 2006. Engaging the Electorate: Initiatives to Promote Voter Turnout from Around the World. Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Feenstra, Robert C., Inklaar, Robert, and Timmer, Marcel P.. 2013. The next Generation of the Penn World Table. Accessed December 22, 2013.
Fowler, Anthony. 2013. Electoral and Policy Consequences of Voter Turnout: Evidence from Compulsory Voting in Australia. Quarterly Journal of Political Science 8 2: 159–82.
Franklin, Mark N. 1999. Electoral Engineering and Cross-National Turnout Differences: What Role for Compulsory Voting? British Journal of Political Science 29 1: 205–16.
Gallego, Aina. 2010. Understanding Unequal Turnout: Education and Voting in Comparative Perspective. Electoral Studies 29 2 (June): 239–48.
Hawkins, Kirk A. 2010. Who Mobilizes? Participatory Democracy in Chávez's Bolivarian Revolution. Latin American Politics and Society 52 3 (Fall): 3166.
Hawkins, Kirk A., and Hansen, David R.. 2006. Dependent Civil Society: the Círculos Bolivarianos in Venezuela. Latin American Research Review 41 1: 102–32.
Hooghe, Marc, and Pelleriaux, Koen. 1998. Compulsory Voting in Belgium: an Application of the Lijphart Thesis. Electoral Studies 17 4: 419–24.
Imai, Kosuke, Keele, Luke, Tingley, Dustin, and Yamamoto, Teppei. 2011. Unpacking the Black Box of Causality: Learning about Causal Mechanisms from Experimental and Observational Studies. American Political Science Review 105 4: 765–89.
Irwin, Galen. 1974. Compulsory Voting Legislation: Impact on Voter Turnout in the Netherlands. Comparative Political Studies 7 3: 292315.
Iversen, Torben, and Soskice, David. 2006. Electoral Institutions and the Politics of Coalitions: Why Some Democracies Redistribute More than Others. American Political Science Review 100 2: 165–81.
Jackman, Simon. 2001. Voting: Compulsory. In International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, ed. Smelser, Neil J. and Baltes, Paul B.. New York: Elsevier. 16314–18.
Jackson, Robert A., Brown, Robert D., and Wright, Gerald C.. 1998. Registration, Turnout, and Electoral Representativeness of U.S. State Electorates. American Politics Quarterly 26 3: 259–87.
Jaitman, Laura. 2013. The Causal Effect of Compulsory Voting Laws on Turnout: Does Skill Matter? Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 92: 7993.
Lynn, Karl, Terry. 1997. The Paradox of Plenty: Oil Booms and Petro-States. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Kasara, Kimuli, and Suryanarayan, Pavithra. 2015. When Do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality across the World. American Journal of Political Science 59 3: 613–27.
Kouba, Karel, and Lysek, Jakub. 2016. Institutional Determinants of Invalid Voting in Post-Communist Europe and Latin America. Electoral Studies 41: 92104.
Lacroix, Justine. 2007. A Liberal Defence of Compulsory Voting. Politics 27 3: 190–95.
Layton, Matthew L., and Smith, Amy Erica. 2015. Incorporating Marginal Citizens and Voters: the Conditional Electoral Effects of Targeted Social Assistance in Latin America. Comparative Political Studies 48 7: 854–81.
Leighley, Jan E., and Nagler, Jonathan. 1992. Socioeconomic Class Bias in Turnout, 1964–1988: the Voters Remain the Same. American Political Science Review 86 3: 725–36.
Lever, Annabelle. 2010. Compulsory Voting: a Critical Perspective. British Journal of Political Science 40 4: 875–95.
Lijphart, Arend. 1997. Unequal Participation: Democracy's Unresolved Dilemma. American Political Science Review 91 1 (March): 114.
Lupu, Noam. 2010. Who Votes for Chavismo? Class Voting in Hugo Chávez's Venezuela. Latin American Research Review 45 1: 732.
Mainwaring, Scott, Torcal, Mariano, and Somma, Nicolás M.. 2015. The Left and the Mobilization of Class Voting in Latin America. In Carlin et al. 2015. 6998.
Martikainen, Pekka, Martikainen, Tuomo, and Wass, Hanna. 2005. The Effect of Socioeconomic Factors on Voter Turnout in Finland: a Register-Based Study of 2.9 Million Voters. European Journal of Political Research 44 5: 645–69.
Matsusaka, John G. 1995. Explaining Voter Turnout Patterns: an Information Theory. Public Choice 84, 1–2: 91117.
Molina, José E. 1995. Participación y abstención electoral. El proceso electoral de 1993: análisis de sus resultados. Serie Foro al Día (Universidad Central de Venezuela) 1: 2942.
Molina, José E., and Baralt, Carmen Pérez. 1995. Los venezolanos abandonan el habito de votar: la abstención en las elecciones de 1993. Boletín Electoral Latinoamericano (San José, Costa Rica) 13: 159–79.
Molina, José E., and Baralt, Carmen Pérez. 1996. Los procesos electorales y la evolución del sistema de partidos en Venezuela. In El sistema político venezolano: crisis y transformaciones, ed. Álvarez, Ángel E.. Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela. 193216.
Penfold-Becerra, Michael. 2007. Clientelism and Social Funds: Evidence from Chávez's Misiones. Latin American Politics and Society 49 4 (Winter): 6384.
Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney General. 2013. Electoral Reform. Discussion paper. Government of Queensland, Australia, January.
Quintelier, Ellen, Hooghe, Marc, and Marien, Sofie. 2011. The Effect of Compulsory Voting on Turnout Stratification Patterns: a Cross-National Analysis. International Political Science Review 32 4: 396416.
Rosales, Simón. 1986. El comportamiento electoral del venezolano al partir del año 1958. In Reformas electorales y partidos políticos, ed. Magallanes, Manuel Vicente. del Cincuentario, Colección, vol 1. Caracas: Consejo Supremo Electoral. 3995.
Rosenbaum, Paul R. 1984. The Consequences of Adjustment for a Concomitant Variable That Has Been Affected by the Treatment. Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series A (General), 147 5: 656–66.
Singh, Shane P. 2011a. Contradictory Calculi: Differences in Individuals' Turnout Decisions across Electoral Systems. Political Research Quarterly 64 3: 646–55.
Singh, Shane P. 2011b. How Compelling is Compulsory Voting? a Multilevel Analysis of Turnout. Political Behavior 33 1: 95111.
Singh, Shane P. 2015. Compulsory Voting and the Turnout Decision Calculus. Political Studies, 63 3: 548–68.
Singh, Shane P. 2016. Compulsory Voting and Dissatisfaction with Democracy. British Journal of Political Science. Published online April 26.
Solt, Frederick. 2009. Standardizing the World Income Inequality Database. Social Science
Quarterly 90 2: 231–42.
Solt, Frederick. 2013. Standardized World Income Inequality Database, Version 4.0, September 2013.
Stokes, Susan C. 2001. Mandates and Democracy: Neoliberalism by Surprise in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Teorell, Jan, Charron, Nicholas, Dahlberg, Stefan, Holmberg, Sören, Rothstein, Bo, Sundin, Petrus, and Svensson, Richard. 2013. The Quality of Government Basic Dataset made from The Quality of Government Dataset, version 15. May13. Gothenberg: Quality of Government Institute, University of Gothenburg. Accessed December 22, 2013.
Tingsten, Herbert. 1937. Political Behavior: Studies in Election Statistics. London: P. S. King and Son.
Ungar, Elisabeth. 2011. Lo bueno, lo malo y lo feo del voto obligatorio en Colombia: un debate inconcluso. In Voto voluntario y voto obligatorio, ed. Centro de Estudios Públicos, Corporación de Estudios para Latinoamérica, Instituto de Libertad y Desarrollo, and Proyectamérica. Santiago: Centro de Estudios Públicos. 211–17.
Weyland, Kurt. 2003. Economic Voting Reconsidered: Crisis and Charisma in the Election of Hugo Chávez. Comparative Political Studies 36 7: 822–48.
Enrique, Zambrano, Ángel. 1989. Sociedad civil y participación electoral. In Sistema político venezolano, clubes franceses, y tendencias electorales, ed. Vicente Magallanes, Manuel. del Cincuentario, Colección vol. 8. Caracas: Consejo Supremo Electoral.
Zechmeister, Elizabeth J. 2015. Left-Right Identifications and the Latin American Voter. In Carlin et al. 2015. 195225.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Latin American Politics and Society
  • ISSN: 1531-426X
  • EISSN: 1548-2456
  • URL: /core/journals/latin-american-politics-and-society
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed