Electoral Reforms and the Representativeness of Turnout

Political Science Research and Methods

34 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2016 Last revised: 21 Apr 2020

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Lukas Schmid

University of Lucerne

Date Written: May 29, 2016


Voters tend to be richer, more conservative, and more educated than non-voters. While many electoral reforms promise to increase political participation, these policy instruments may have multidimensional and differential effects that can increase or decrease the representativeness of turnout. We develop an approach that allows us to estimate these effects and assess the impact of postal voting on representational inequality in Swiss referendums using individual-level (N=79,000) and aggregate-level data from 1981 to 2009. We find that postal voting mobilizes equally across a wide range of political and sociodemographic groups but more strongly activates high earners, those with medium education levels, and less politically interested individuals. Yet, those who vote are not less politically knowledgeable and the effects on the composition of turnout remain limited. Our results inform research on the consequences of electoral reforms meant to increase political participation in large electorates.

Keywords: Turnout, Political Participation, Referendums, Elections, Postal Voting, Democracy, Public Policy

JEL Classification: D72

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Schmid, Lukas, Electoral Reforms and the Representativeness of Turnout (May 29, 2016). Political Science Research and Methods, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2768900 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2768900

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Lukas Schmid

University of Lucerne ( email )

Hofstrasse 9
P.O. Box 7464
Luzern 7, CH - 6000

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