Unemployment and Voter Turnout

19 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 20 Aug 2012

See all articles by Barry C. Burden

Barry C. Burden

University of Wisconsin - Madison

Amber Wichowsky

Marquette University

Date Written: 2012


The 2008 presidential election saw the highest voter turnout in over a generation. This elevated level of electoral participation took place at a time when the country was in the midst of deep economic recession. Despite the timeliness and theoretical importance of this question, the scholarly literature has surprisingly little to say about whether the economy affects turnout. We tackle this question with a comprehensive empirical strategy that focuses on unemployment. Using a variety of data sources and statistical models, we explore the effects of unemployment on voter turnout both longitudinally and at multiple level of analysis: state, county, and individual. In every case – regardless of the unit of analysis and the level at which unemployment is measured – we find a positive effect on voter turnout. In both standard regression and difference-in-difference models, we show that increases in unemployment increase voter participation. We also elucidate the interaction between unemployment rates and personal experiences with unemployment.

Keywords: voter turnout, unemployment

Suggested Citation

Burden, Barry C. and Wichowsky, Amber, Unemployment and Voter Turnout (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2105212

Barry C. Burden (Contact Author)

University of Wisconsin - Madison ( email )

716 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706-1481
United States

Amber Wichowsky

Marquette University ( email )

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