Voter Habituation in Developing Democracies: Evidence from South Africa's First Democratic Election
38 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2015 Last revised: 12 May 2015
Date Written: April 25, 2015
In a developing democracy, can elections change the behavior of participating citizens? I identify the effect of participating in South Africa's first democratic election in 1994 on future electoral participation, and present the first well-identified evidence that past participation increases future participation in a developing democracy. Participating in 1994 has an intent-to-treat effect of 2.9 percentage points on future participation, and an average treatment effect of between 3.5 and 8.5 percentage points. Given low turnout rates, these effects account for 7-20% of the size of the electorate. To explain this result I introduce a novel theoretical explanation that draws on psychological research -- affective experience habituation. I argue that persistence (or habituation) in voting behavior is partly driven by the creation of associations between first time voting and positive emotional states. The theory is tested within the context of the 1994 election by exploiting racial and geographic variation in electoral experiences.
Keywords: voting behavior, South Africa, habituation
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