Inequality and Turnout in Europe

26 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 1 Sep 2011

See all articles by Markus Steinbrecher

Markus Steinbrecher

University of Mannheim

Gilg U. H. Seeber

University of Innsbruck - Department of Political Science

Date Written: 2011


Turnout research in Europe has for a long time neglected social structural inequalities as an important source of the individual willingness to participate in elections. This is mainly due to the fact that attitudinal characteristics proved to be much more important predictors of individual turnout in multivariate analyses. In addition, the seminal studies of Verba and his colleagues (1978) as well as of Barnes and Kaase (1979) pointed out that socio-economic biases for turnout are very limited in European countries. However, recent research has shown that turnout is related to socio-economic inequalities and that the decline in turnout rates witnessed by many European countries has partly been caused by lower electoral activity of citizens of lower socio-economic status (Anderson and Beramendi 2008; Gallego 2007; Schäfer 2010; Solt 2008). This result has been linked to the fact that socio-economic inequalities have drastically increased in many European countries since the 1970ies (Brandolini and Smeeding 2008; OECD 2008).

This paper’s focus is on the impact of socio-economic inequalities on participation at national parliamentary elections in European countries. By drawing on data from round 4 of the European Social Survey we link macro- and micro-level characteristics using a hierarchical modelling approach. Our main findings show that income has a strong positive effect on turnout in a large majority of European countries. However, there is a decisive difference between post-communist and the other countries. At the macro-level higher levels of inequality lead to lower turnout. Contexts with higher levels of inequality show smaller participation gaps between the rich and the poor.

Keywords: Turnout, inequality, Europe, ESS

Suggested Citation

Steinbrecher, Markus and Seeber, Gilg U. H., Inequality and Turnout in Europe (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN:

Markus Steinbrecher (Contact Author)

University of Mannheim ( email )

Mannheim, D-68131

Gilg U. H. Seeber

University of Innsbruck - Department of Political Science ( email )

Universitatsstrasse 15
Innsbruck, A-6020

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