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Voter Turnout
A Social Theory of Political Participation

$108.00 (C)

Part of Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions

  • Author: Meredith Rolfe, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Date Published: February 2012
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107015418

$ 108.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • This book develops and empirically tests a social theory of political participation. It overturns prior understandings of why some people (such as college-degree holders, churchgoers, and citizens in national rather than local elections) vote more often than others. The book shows that the standard demographic variables are not proxies for variation in the individual costs and benefits of participation, but for systematic variation in the patterns of social ties between potential voters. Potential voters who move in larger social circles, particularly those including politicians and other mobilizing actors, have more access to the flurry of electoral activity prodding citizens to vote and increasing political discussion. Treating voting as a socially-defined practice instead of as an individual choice over personal payoffs, a social theory of participation is derived from a mathematical model with behavioral foundations that is empirically calibrated and tested using multiple methods and data sources.

    • Applies insights from the behavioral revolution in economics started by Simon, Kahneman and Tversky to the study of voter turnout
    • Based on research for which the author won the Mancur Olsen prize in Political Economy
    • Innovative research design integrates content analysis, computational modeling, results from public goods experiments, interviews with candidates and statistical analyses of the General Social Survey, voting returns and census data
    • Dramatic but constructive rethinking of how demographics such as education, income and interest in politics are related to participation
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    Reviews & endorsements

    “In Voter Turnout, Meredith Rolfe presents a dramatically new and different account of one of the most studied of political behaviors, turnout. Her explanation is of turnout as a social act. She develops a rigorous theory what she calls conditional decision making, that is decision making that varies in precise ways when embedded in different networks. She is able to derive interesting implications of this theory and contrast it with the more usual account, what she would call unconditional decision making. And she is able to test this account, among other things providing a very different explanation of education and turnout. This is a theoretically innovative and rigorous explanation that all must take seriously.”—John Aldrich, Duke University

    “Voter Turnout is an important book that brings a fresh perspective to the study of the most critical act of democratic participation. It will surely push political scientists to think about the act of voting in new ways.”—Adam J. Berinsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

    “Rolfe has produced a fascinating account of the socially contingent basis for voter turnout. She joins a rich tradition, with roots that extend at least to the early 20th century work of Tingsten, demonstrating that the decision to vote is not simply an individualistic act, but rather a decision that is contingent on the behavior of others. Her argument treats turnout as a social dilemma in which individuals are more likely to participate if their associates participate. Thus the individual-level correlates of participation are, in fact, imperfect proxies for social structural variables – in particular, for the properties of the social networks within which individuals are located. Finally, and just as important, she convincingly demonstrates the relevance of social networks and social structure for alternative micro theories of individual behavior.”—Robert Huckfeldt, University of California, Davis

    “This is an important book that reframes how social scientists should think about political choice. Rolfe offers a powerful new theoretical framework as well as compelling empirical results that reveal the extent to which political participation is imbedded in a dense web of social relationships. This book will set in motion of cottage industry of new research.”—Steven J. Rosenstone, Chancellor, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities

    "Rolfe borrows the rigor of formal theory and applies it to an understanding of voters as socially embedded decision makers. This work is well grounded in two rich traditions and addresses social choice from economic and social perspectives. Summing Up: Recommended" -T. Marchant-Shapiro, Southern Connecticut State University, CHOICE Magazine

    "Voter Turnout: A Social Theory of Political Participation is an excellent book. I strongly recommend it to anyone studying voter turnout or who is interested more generally in empirically oriented modeling or the role of social interactions in aggregate behavior. Meredith Rolfe lays out a social theory of voters turnout that at every step is justified by and challenges data, making it both an admirably coherent account of how social interactions affect aggregate turnout and a superb case study not only in detailing the empirical implications of theoretical models, but also the use of empirics to inform theoretical development." - David A. Siegel, Florida State University, The Journal of Politics

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    Product details

    • Date Published: February 2012
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107015418
    • length: 248 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 17 mm
    • weight: 0.54kg
    • contains: 16 b/w illus. 4 maps 14 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. Introduction
    2. Conditional choice
    3. The social meaning of voting
    4. Conditional cooperation
    5. Conditional voters
    6. The social theory of turnout
    7. Education and high salience elections
    8. Mobilization and turnout in low salience elections
    9. Paradox lost.

  • Author

    Meredith Rolfe, London School of Economics and Political Science
    Meredith Rolfe held a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellowship at Nuffield College prior to becoming a Senior Research Fellow at Saïd Business School, University of Oxford. Her dissertation was awarded the Mancur Olsen Dissertation Grant by the APSA Political Economy section. Rolfe has been awarded grants by the National Science Foundation, the British Academy, Oxford's John Fell Fund, the EU-sponsored Equalsoc Framework and the Oxford University Centre of Corporation Reputation. Her work has appeared in Public Opinion Quarterly and L'Année Sociologique, and she was an invited contributor to the Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology and the Oxford Handbook of Corporate Reputation.

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