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The Effect of Electoral Systems on Voter Turnout: Evidence from a Natural Experiment*

  • Carlos Sanz

I exploit the unique institutional framework of Spanish local elections, where municipalities follow different electoral systems depending on their population size, as mandated by a national law. Using a regression discontinuity design, I compare turnout under closed list proportional representation and under an open list, plurality-at-large system where voters can vote for individual candidates from the same or different party-lists. I find that the open list system increases turnout by between 1 and 2 percentage points. The results suggest that open list systems, which introduce competition both across and within parties, are conducive to more voter turnout.

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Carlos Sanz, PhD Candidate, Department of Economics, Princeton University, 08544 Princeton, NJ ( The author thanks Marco Battaglini and Thomas Fujiwara for their guidance and support. The author also thanks Jorge Álvarez, Jesús Fernández-Villaverde, Federico Huneeus, Matias Iaryczower, John Londregan, Fernanda Márquez-Padilla, José Miguel Rodríguez, and seminar participants in Princeton University for their thoughtful comments and suggestions. The author is solely responsible for any remaining errors.

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Political Science Research and Methods
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