Strategic Abstention in Proportional Representation Systems (Evidence from Multiple Countries)
22 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2018
Date Written: 2018
This paper proposes a framework to assess whether there is strategic abstention in proportional representation (PR) systems. Strategic abstention occurs when instrumental voters who believe the race is extremely close choose to abstain. Drawing from Blais (2006), the assumption is that the race between coalitions (and not between parties) is what ultimately matters. The main predictions are two: (i) voters who expect the race to be neck-and-neck are more likely to abstain when they cannot express a strong preference for any of the two leading coalitions; and (ii) preferences over coalitions no longer explains turnout among voters who believe one of the coalitions is clearly ahead. In order to test them, I use pre-electoral survey data from five different elections in three different countries (Austria, Germany, and Israel). Results strongly support both predictions. Finally, this paper also shows that uncertainty regarding which coalitions may be formed decreases turnout. Taken together, these results suggest that, in PR systems, coalition expectations play a key role in the decision to vote or not.
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