Widowhood Effects in Voter Participation
American Journal of Political Science, Forthcoming
45 Pages Posted: 22 Dec 2012 Last revised: 9 Apr 2019
Date Written: March 10, 2013
Past research suggests that spouses influence one another to vote, but relies almost exclusively on correlation in turnout. It is therefore difficult to establish whether spouses mobilize each other or tend to marry similar others. Here, we test the dependency hypothesis by examining voting behavior before and after the death of a spouse. We link nearly 6 million California voter records to Social Security death records, and use both coarsened exact matching and multiple cohort comparison to estimate the effects of spousal loss. The results show that after turnout rates stabilize, widowed individuals vote nine percentage points less than they would had their spouse still been living, and that this change may persist indefinitely. Variations in this "widowhood effect" on voting support a social isolation explanation for the drop in turnout.
Keywords: turnout, political participation, social isolation, mobilization, spouse, death, loss, widowhood effect, causal inference
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