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Does Compulsory Voting Increase Support for Leftist Policy?

American Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming)

45 Pages Posted: 24 Nov 2013 Last revised: 28 Aug 2015

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: April 1, 2015

Abstract

Citizens unequally participate in referendums and this may systematically bias policy in favor of those who vote. Some view compulsory voting as an important tool to alleviate this problem while others worry about its detrimental effects on the legitimacy and quality of democratic decision-making. So far, however, we lack systematic knowledge about the causal effect of compulsory voting on public policy. We argue that sanctioned compulsory voting mobilizes citizens at the bottom of the income distribution and that this translates into an increase in support for leftist policies. We empirically explore the effects of a sanctioned compulsory voting law on direct-democratic decision-making in Switzerland. We find that compulsory voting significantly increases electoral support for leftist policy positions in referendums by up to 20 percentage points. We discuss the implications of these results for our understanding of the policy consequences of electoral institutions.

Keywords: Voting, Turnout, Public Policy, Mobilization, Elections, Referendums, Direct Democracy, Social Policy

JEL Classification: H41, P16, D72

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Hangartner, Dominik and Schmid, Lukas, Does Compulsory Voting Increase Support for Leftist Policy? (April 1, 2015). American Journal of Political Science (Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2358644 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2358644

Michael M. 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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