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Pivotality and Turnout: Evidence from a Field Experiment in the Aftermath of a Tied Election*

  • Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler

Many citizens abstain from the political process, and the reasons for this abstention are of great interest and importance. Most scholars and pundits assume that greater electoral competition and the increased chance of pivotality will motivate citizens to participate. We test this hypothesis through a large-scale field experiment that exploits the rare opportunity of a tied election for major political office. Informing citizens that an upcoming election will be close has little mobilizing effect. Any effect that we do detect is concentrated among a small set of frequent voters. The evidence suggests that increased pivotality is not a solution to low turnout and the predominant models of turnout focusing on pivotality are of little practical use.

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*Both authors contributed equally. Ryan Enos is Assistant Professor, Department of Government, Harvard University, 1737 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138 ( Anthony Fowler is Assistant Professor, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago, 1155 East 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637 ( We thank the Harvard Center for American Political Studies for generously helping to fund this research and the Harvard Institute for Quantitative Social Science for logistical support. We also thank Steve Ansolabehere, André Blais, Don Green, Seth Hill, Gabe Lenz, Tom Palfrey and Jim Snyder for helpful comments and advice; Catherine Choi for assistance with the literature review and article counts; Virginia Allen, Maddie Daoust, Lori Kelley, Jean Mulhall and Darlene Tully for providing data; and Ashley Anderson, Andrew Blinkinsop, Dena Yahya Enos, Sandra Fryhofer, Hollie Gilman, Mai Hassan, Michael Lai, Elena Llaudet, Eric Michel, Shahrzad Sabet, Samantha Singh, Kris-Stella Trump, Omar Wasow and Ariel White for placing phone calls for our field experiment. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit
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Political Science Research and Methods
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