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Compulsory Voting, Habit Formation, and Political Participation

51 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2011 Last revised: 23 Jun 2017

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Dominik Hangartner

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

Lukas Schmid

University of Lucerne

Date Written: January 1, 2015

Abstract

Can electoral institutions induce lasting changes in citizens' voting habits? We study the long-term and spillover effects of compulsory voting in the Swiss canton of Vaud (1900-1970) and find that this intervention increases turnout in federal referendums by 30 percentage points. However, despite its magnitude, the effect returns to zero quickly after voting is no longer compulsory. We find minor spillover effects on related forms of political participation that also vanish immediately after compulsory voting has been abolished. Overall, these results question habit formation arguments in the context of compulsory voting. They are consistent with a more parsimonious theory in which individuals quickly adapt to externally imposed changes in the costs of non-voting.

Keywords: Habit Formation, Compulsory Voting, Turnout, Political Participation, Social Norms

JEL Classification: H41, P16, D72

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Hangartner, Dominik and Schmid, Lukas, Compulsory Voting, Habit Formation, and Political Participation (January 1, 2015). Review of Economics and Statistics, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1914333 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1914333

Michael Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Dominik Hangartner

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Departments of Government and Methodology
Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

Stanford Immigration Policy Lab

30 Alta Road
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Lukas Schmid

University of Lucerne ( email )

Hofstrasse 9
P.O. Box 7464
Luzern 7, CH - 6000
Switzerland

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