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Driving turnout: the effect of car ownership on electoral participation

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 December 2021

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner
Affiliation:
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
Maxwell Palmer*
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA
*
*Corresponding author. E-mail: mbpalmer@bu.edu

Abstract

Inequalities in voter participation between groups of the population pose a problem for democratic representation. We use administrative data on 6.7 million registered voters to show that a previously-ignored characteristic of voters—access to a personal automobile—creates large disparities in in-person voting rates. Lack of access to a car depresses election day voter turnout by substantively large amounts across a variety of fixed-effects models that account for other environmental and voter characteristics. Car access creates the largest hindrance to voting for those people who live farther from the polls. These effects do not appear for absentee voting, suggesting a simple policy solution to solve large disparities in political participation. This study contributes to the theoretic understanding of political participation as well as the impact of potential policy reforms to solve participatory gaps.

Type
Research Note
Copyright
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the European Political Science Association

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