Compulsory Voting, Habit Formation, and Political Participation
Michael M. Bechtel
Washington University in Saint Louis
London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE); Stanford Immigration Policy Lab
Can compulsory voting induce lasting changes in citizens' voting habits? We study the long-term and spillover effects of a severely sanctioned and long-standing compulsory voting law in the Swiss canton of Vaud (1900-1970). Our findings suggest that compulsory voting strongly increases turnout in federal referendums by about 30 percentage points. However, this effect returns to zero quickly after voting is no longer compulsory. Moreover, we find only minor spillover effects on related forms of political participation. These spillover effects are limited to referendums that were concurrent with referendums for which voting was compulsory. These results question habit formation arguments in the context of compulsory voting laws. Instead, our findings are consistent with a rationalist model of political participation in which individuals quickly adapt to changes in the costs of non-voting.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 34
JEL Classification: H41, P16, D72
Date posted: August 22, 2011 ; Last revised: February 12, 2015