Direct Democracy, Postal Voting, and the Composition of Turnout

35 Pages Posted: 25 Apr 2016 Last revised: 1 Jun 2016

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


Electoral reforms that decrease the costs of political participation promise to reduce class biases in civic engagement. However, this could lower the quality of democracy as the less politically interested, knowledgeable, and educated may also vote more frequently. We exploit the sequential introduction of postal voting in Swiss cantons to analyze in detail how an exogenous decrease in voting costs affects the political and socio-demographic composition of turnout in direct legislation. We find that while postal voting mobilizes equally along many dimensions including individuals' political knowledge, employment status, and religious denomination, it more strongly activates partisans of left and centrist parties, less politically interested individuals, and high earners. However, these changes have only limited effects on the overall turnout composition and are unlikely to affect referendum outcomes. Our results alleviate concerns about the negative side effects of postal voting on the quality of collective choice 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, Direct Democracy, Postal Voting, and the Composition of Turnout (May 29, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

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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