Bringing the Polls to the People: How Electoral Access Encourages Turnout But Exacerbates Political Inequality
32 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2017 Last revised: 25 Feb 2017
Date Written: February 22, 2017
New or fragile democracies often suffer from low political participation. In these contexts attempts to increase electoral access are generally seen as unambiguously desirable. But while these policies can increase the size of the electorate, they may carry costs. Improving access affects the composition of the electorate by differentially enfranchising those who are highly sensitive to voting costs. Using new administrative data from post-Apartheid South Africa and a difference-in-differences design, I show that the Independent Electoral Commission's large scale expansion of access to voting stations has increased national turnout by between 2.3 and 4.7 percentage points over the period 1999 to 2014. This accounts for roughly 5% of the electorate. By spatially linking approximately 39,000 survey respondents to their nearest voting station, I then demonstrate, in the context of a natural quasi-experiment, that those of high socio-economic status and those who are older are much more sensitive to electoral access than others. Improving access expands the franchise in general, but does so more for those already economically or politically over-represented, who happen to be more opposed to redistributive public policies, and who have particular partisan preferences.
Keywords: Voting, South Africa, Elections, Turnout, Access
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