Does Voter Turnout Cause Election Outcomes?
31 Pages Posted: 25 Oct 2014 Last revised: 28 Apr 2015
Date Written: April 28, 2015
Does higher (lower) voter turnout produce more votes for parties on the left (right)? Over the course of the past seven decades, both academics and the media have studied this question at length. In this paper, however, we argue that whether voter turnout has a causal effect on the outcome of an election is a "fundamentally unidentified question" (Angrist and Pischke, 2008). This is because we never observe one of the potential outcomes – an individual’s vote choice if he/she did not even vote in the first place. Given the data-generating process, we argue that it makes more sense to examine how theoretically-important or policy-relevant exogenous factors affect voter turnout and party support simultaneously. This study exemplifies the importance of carefully defining potential outcomes and causality in observational studies. Searching for good instrumental variables is a valid approach only if counterfactuals are properly defined.
Keywords: causal inference, potential outcome, turnout, rainfall, instrumental variable
JEL Classification: C90, D72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation