Regular Voters, Marginal Voters, and the Electoral Effects of Turnout
15 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 19 Feb 2016
Date Written: 2015
A significant scholarly literature has focused on the question “what if everyone voted?” Due to the difficulty of answering this question and the improbability of achieving universal turnout in the U.S., I focus on the more relevant question, “How do marginal voters differ from regular voters?” Of course, the answer will vary depending on the electoral setting and the way in which marginal voters are mobilized or demobilized. In this paper I develop a method for comparing the partisan preferences of regular voters to those marginal voters whose turnout decisions were influenced by some exogenous factor and apply it to several sources of variation in turnout – weather and the timing of gubernatorial and congressional elections. In each setting, marginal voters are more supportive of the Democratic Party than regular voters, and the substantive size of this divide can be huge – ranging from 5 to 47 percentage points. The findings suggest that electoral reforms and other factors that may expand or contract the electorate can have important partisan consequences. Moreover, the findings suggest that election results do not always reflect the preferences of the citizenry, because those marginal citizens who stay home have systematically different preferences than those who participate.
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