Skip to main content Accessibility help

Politically Unengaged, Distrusting, and Disaffected Individuals Drive the Link Between Compulsory Voting and Invalid Balloting

  • Shane P. Singh


Invalid ballots are relatively common in countries with compulsory voting, yet there is no cross-national evidence as to who is more likely to cast a blank or spoiled ballot where voting is forced. I argue that increased rates of blank and spoiled balloting where voting is obligatory result from the behavior of the politically unknowledgeable, uninterested, untrusting, and disaffected, who are incentivized to turn out to the polls where they can be sanctioned for abstention. To test this, I conduct an individual-level examination of the influence of compulsory voting on invalid balloting across countries. I find support for my expectations with analyses of survey data from several American democracies, many of which compel electoral participation.



Hide All

Shane P. Singh is an Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs, University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602 ( The author would like to thank Kymara Sneed and Kerri Anne Watson for their assistance. He also thanks the Latin American Public Opinion Project and Latinobarómetro for the data used in this project. To view supplementary material for this article, please visit



Hide All
Almond, Gabriel Abraham, and Verba, Sidney. (eds). 1980. The Civic Culture Revisited. Boston, MA: Little Brown.
Barthélemy, Joseph. 1912. L’ Organisation Du Suffrage Et L’expérience Belge. Paris: M. Giard & É. Brière.
Berggren, Heidi M. 2001. ‘Institutional Context and Reduction of the Resource Bias in Political Sophistication’. Political Research Quarterly 54(3):531552.
Berry, William D., DeMeritt, Jacqueline H. R., and Esarey, Justin. 2010. ‘Testing for Interaction in Binary Logit and Probit Models: Is a Product Term Essential?American Journal of Political Science 54(1):248266.
Birch, Sarah. 2009. Full Participation: A Comparative Study of Compulsory Voting. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Blais, André. 2006. ‘What Affects Voter Turnout?Annual Review of Political Science 9:111125.
Blais, André, and St-Vincent, Simon Labbé. 2011. ‘Personality Traits, Political Attitudes and the Propensity to Vote’. European Journal of Political Research 50(3):395417.
Bowler, Shaun, and Donovan, Todd. 2013. ‘Civic Duty and Turnout in the UK Referendum on AV: What Shapes the Duty to Vote?Electoral Studies 32(2):265273.
Broomall, John M. 1893. ‘Compulsory Voting’. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 3:9397.
Carlin, Ryan E. 2006. ‘The Decline of Citizen Participation in Electoral Politics in Post-Authoritarian Chile’. Democratization 13(4):632651.
Carlin, Ryan E., and Love, Gregory J.. 2015. ‘Who is the Latin American Voter?’ In Ryan E. Carlin, Matthew M. Singer and Elizabeth J. Zechmeister (eds), The Latin American Voter: Pursuing Representation and Accountability in Challenging Contexts, 3159. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Carreras, Miguel. 2016. ‘Compulsory Voting and Political Engagement (Beyond the Ballot Box): A Multilevel Analysis’. Electoral Studies 43(1):158168.
Carreras, Miguel, and Castañeda-Angarita, Néstor. 2014. ‘Who Votes in Latin America? A Test of Three Theoretical Perspectives’. Comparative Political Studies 47(8):10791104.
Catterberg, Gabriela, and Moreno, Alejandro. 2006. ‘The Individual Bases of Political Trust: Trends in New and Established Democracies’. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 18(1):3148.
Dalton, Russell J., and Welzel, Christian. (eds). 2014a. The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dalton, Russell J., and Welzel, Christian. 2014b. ‘From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens’. In R. J. Dalton and C. Welzel (eds), The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, 282306. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dalton, Russell J., and Welzel, Christian. 2014c. ‘Political Culture and Value Change’. In R. J. Dalton and C. Welzel (eds), The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, 234. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Dalton, Russell J., and Shin, Doh Chull. 2014. ‘Reassessing the Civic Culture Model’. In R. J. Dalton and C. Welzel (eds), The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, 91115. New York: Cambridge University Press.
deCharms, Richard. 1968. Personal Causation: The Internal Affective Determinants of Behavior. Hillsdale, MI: Lawrance Erlbaum.
Deci, Edward L. 1975. Intrinsic Motivation. New York: Plenum Press.
de Leon, Fernanda Leite Lopez, and Rizzi, Renata. 2014. ‘A Test for the Rational Ignorance Hypothesis: Evidence From a Natural Experiment in Brazil’. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy 6(4):380398.
Dettrey, Bryan J., and Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie A.. 2009. ‘Voter Turnout in Presidential Democracies’. Comparative Political Studies 42(10):13171338.
Driscoll, Amanda, and Nelson, Michael J.. 2014. ‘Ignorance or Opposition? Blank and Spoiled Votes in Low-Information, Highly Politicized Environments’. Political Research Quarterly 67(3):547561.
Engelen, Bart. 2007. ‘Why Compulsory Voting Can Enhance Democracy’. Acta Politica 42(1):2339.
Fornos, Carolina A., Power, Timothy J., and Garand, James C.. 2004. ‘Explaining Voter Turnout in Latin America, 1980 to 2000’. Comparative Political Studies 37(8):909940.
Galston, William A. 2001. ‘Political Knowledge, Political Engagement, and Civic Education’. Annual Review of Political Science 4(1):217234.
Goot, Murray. 1985. ‘Electoral Systems’. In D. Aitkin (ed.), Surveys of Australian Political Science, 179264. Sydney: George Allen & Unwin for the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
Gordon, Stacy B., and Segura, Gary M.. 1997. ‘Cross-National Variation in the Political Sophistication of Individuals: Capability or Choice?Journal of Politics 59(1):126147.
Grönlund, Kimmo, and Setälä, Maija. 2007. ‘Political Trust, Satisfaction and Voter Turnout’. Comparative European Politics 5(4):400422.
Henn, Matt, and Oldfield, Ben. 2016. ‘Cajoling or Coercing: Would Electoral Engineering Resolve the Young Citizen-State Disconnect?Journal of Youth Studies 19(9):12591280.
Hirczy, Wolfgang. 1994. ‘The Impact of Mandatory Voting Laws on Turnout: A Quasi-Experimental Approach’. Electoral Studies 13(1):6476.
Hooghe, Marc, Marien, Sofie, and Pauwels, Teun. 2011. ‘Where Do Distrusting Voters Turn if There is No Viable Exit or Voice Option? The Impact of Political Trust on Electoral Behaviour in the Belgian Regional Elections of June 2009’. Government and Opposition 46(2):245273.
Imbens, Guido W., and Lemieux, Thomas. 2008. ‘Regression Discontinuity Designs: A Guide to Practice’. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):615635.
Irwin, Galen. 1974. ‘Compulsory Voting Legislation: Impact on Voter Turnout in the Netherlands’. Comparative Political Studies 7(3):292315.
Jakobsen, Tor Georg, and Listhaug, Ola. 2014. ‘Social Change and the Politics of Protest’. In R. J. Dalton and C. Welzel (eds), The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, 213239. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Karp, Jeffrey A., Banducci, Susan A., and Bowler, Shaun. 2003. ‘To Know It is to Love It?: Satisfaction With Democracy in the European Union’. Comparative Political Studies 36(3):271292.
Knack, Stephen, and Keefer, Philip. 1997. ‘Does Social Capital Have an Economic Payoff? A Cross-Country Investigation’. Quarterly Journal of Economics 112(4):12511288.
Kostadinova, Tatiana, and Power, Timothy J.. 2007. ‘Does Democratization Depress Participation? Voter Turnout in the Latin American and Eastern European Transitional Democracies’. Political Research Quarterly 60(3):363377.
Kouba, Karel, and Lysek, Jakub. 2016. ‘Institutional Determinants of Invalid Voting in Post-Communist Europe and Latin America’. Electoral Studies 41(1):92104.
Kreft, Ita, and Leeuw, Jan de. 1998. Introducing Multilevel Modeling. London: Sage.
Lacroix, Justine. 2007. ‘A Liberal Defence of Compulsory Voting’. Politics 27(3):190195.
Lavareda, José Antônio. 1991. A Democracia Nas Urnas: O Processo Partidário Eleitoral Brasileiro (1945–1964). Rio de Janeiro: Rio Fundo Editora.
Lee, David S. 2008. ‘Randomized Experiments From Non-Random Selection in US House Elections’. Journal of Econometrics 142(2):675697.
Lijphart, Arend. 1997. ‘Unequal Participation: Democracy’s Unresolved Dilemma’. American Political Science Review 91(1):114.
Loewen, Peter John, Milner, Henry, and Hicks, Bruce M.. 2008. ‘Does Compulsory Voting Lead to More Informed and Engaged Citizens? An Experimental Test’. Canadian Journal of Political Science 41(3):655672.
McAllister, Ian, and Makkai, Toni. 1993. ‘Institutions, Society or Protest? Explaining Invalid Votes in Australian Elections’. Electoral Studies 12(1):2340.
Nerincx, Alfred. 1901. ‘Compulsory Voting in Belgium’. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 18:8790.
Panagopoulos, Costas. 2008. ‘The Calculus of Voting in Compulsory Voting Systems’. Political Behavior 30(4):455467.
Payne, J. Mark, Zovatto, Daniel, and Díaz, Mercedes Mateo. 2006. La Política Importa: Democracia Y Desarrollo En América Latina. Washington, DC: Inter-American Development Bank and International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Power, Timothy J., and Garand, James C.. 2007. ‘Determinants of Invalid Voting in Latin America’. Electoral Studies 26(2):432444.
Power, Timothy J., and Roberts, J. Timmons. 1995. ‘Compulsory Voting, Invalid Ballots, and Abstention in Brazil’. Political Research Quarterly 48(4):795826.
Prothro, James W., and Grigg, Charles M.. 1960. ‘Fundamental Principles of Democracy: Bases of Agreement and Disagreement’. Journal of Politics 22(2):276294.
Rabe-Hesketh, Sophia, and Skrondal, Anders. 2005. Multilevel and Longitudinal Modeling Using Stata. College Station, TX: Stata Press.
Reynolds, Andrew, and Steenbergen, Marco. 2006. ‘How the World Votes: The Political Consequences of Ballot Design, Innovation and Manipulation’. Electoral Studies 25(3):570598.
Scheff, Thomas J., and Retzinger, Suzanne M.. 1991. Emotions and Violence: Shame and Rage in Destructive Conflicts. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.
See, Mark. 2007. ‘The Case for Compulsory Voting in the United States’. Harvard Law Review 121(2):591612.
Selb, Peter, and Lachat, Romain. 2009. ‘The More, the Better? Counterfactual Evidence on the Effect of Compulsory Voting on the Consistency of Party Choice’. European Journal of Political Research 48(5):573597.
Sheppard, Jill. 2015. ‘Compulsory Voting and Political Knowledge: Testing a “Compelled Engagement” Hypothesis’. Electoral Studies 40(1):300307.
Sherman, Lawrence W. 1993. ‘Defiance, Deterrence, and Irrelevance: A Theory of the Criminal Sanction’. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 30(4):445473.
Shieh, Yann-Yann, and Fouladi, Rachel T.. 2003. ‘The Effect of Multicollinearity on Multilevel Modeling Parameter Estimates and Standard Errors’. Educational and Psychological Measurement 63(6):951985.
Singh, Shane P. 2011. ‘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):548568.
Singh, Shane P. Forthcoming. ‘Compulsory Voting and Dissatisfaction With Democracy.’ British Journal of Political Science.
Stegmueller, Daniel. 2013. ‘How Many Countries for Multilevel Modeling? A Comparison of Frequentist and Bayesian Approaches’. American Journal of Political Science 57(3):748761.
Tyler, Tom R. 2006. Why People Obey the Law. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Uggla, Fredrik. 2008. ‘Incompetence, Alienation, or Calculation? Explaining Levels of Invalid Ballots and Extra-Parliamentary Votes’. Comparative Political Studies 41(8):11411164.
Welzel, Christian, and Alvarez, Alejandro Moreno. 2014. ‘Enlightening People: The Spark of Emancipative Values’. In R. J. Dalton and C. Welzel (eds), The Civic Culture Transformed: From Allegiant to Assertive Citizens, 5988. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Singh Dataset

Supplementary materials

Singh supplementary material

 PDF (830 KB)
830 KB

Politically Unengaged, Distrusting, and Disaffected Individuals Drive the Link Between Compulsory Voting and Invalid Balloting

  • Shane P. Singh


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.