The Effect of Handicaps on Turnout for Large Electorates: An Application to Assessment Voting
CER-ETH Working Paper No. 17/284, December 2017
69 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2017 Last revised: 2 Aug 2019
Date Written: December 15, 2017
We analyze the effect of handicaps on turnout. A handicap is a difference in the vote tally between alternatives that strategic voters take as predetermined when they decide whether to turn out for voting. Handicaps are implicit in many existing democratic procedures. Within a costly voting framework with private values, we show that turnout incentives diminish considerably across the board if handicaps are large, while low handicaps yield more mixed predictions. The results extend beyond the baseline model — e.g. by including uncertainty and behavioral motivations — and can be applied to the optimal design of Assessment Voting. This is a new voting procedure where (i) some randomly-selected citizens vote for one of two alternatives, and the results are published; (ii) the remaining citizens vote or abstain, and (iii) the final outcome is obtained by applying the majority rule to all votes combined. If the size of the first voting group is appropriate, large electorates will choose the majority’s preferred alternative with high probability and average participation costs will be moderate or low.
Keywords: voting; referenda; rational behavior
JEL Classification: C72; D70; D72
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation