Referendum Design, Quorum Rules and Turnout

30 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009 Last revised: 28 Aug 2009

See all articles by Luís Aguiar-Conraria

Luís Aguiar-Conraria

University of Minho - NIPE and Economics Department

Pedro C. Magalhães

Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon

Date Written: 2009

Abstract

How do differences in the institutional design of referendums affect levels of voter turnout? In this article, we focus on the consequences of quorum requirements, a common feature of direct democracy in many contemporary regimes. We use a rational choice, decision theoretic voting model to demonstrate that certain types of quorum requirements change the incentives some electors face. In particular, participation quorums induce electors who oppose changes in the status quo and expect to be in the minority to abstain rather than vote. As a result, participation quorums have the paradoxical effect of decreasing electoral participation. We test our model’s predictions using data for all referendums held in current European Union countries from 1970 until 2007. Besides testing a series of ancillary hypotheses about what determines turnout in referendums, we show that the existence of participation quorums is itself responsible for increasing abstention by more than ten percentage points.

Keywords: Referendum design, Turnout

JEL Classification: D72, C25, C20

Suggested Citation

Aguiar-Conraria, Luis and Magalhães, Pedro C., Referendum Design, Quorum Rules and Turnout (2009). APSA 2009 Toronto Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1451131

Luis Aguiar-Conraria

University of Minho - NIPE and Economics Department ( email )

Dept Economia, Escola de Economia e Gestão
Universidade do Minho, campus de Gualtar
Braga, Braga 4710
Portugal

Pedro C. Magalhães (Contact Author)

Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon ( email )

Av. Prof. Anibal de Bettencourt, 9
Lisbon, 1600-189
Portugal

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