Who Votes: City Election Timing and Voter Composition
American Political Science Review
53 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2021
Date Written: July 16, 2021
Low and uneven turnout is a serious problem for local democracy. Fortunately, one simple reform — shifting the timing of local elections so they are held on the same day as national contests — can substantially increase participation. Considerable research shows that on-cycle November elections generally double local voter turnout compared to stand-alone local contests. But does higher turnout mean a more representative electorate? On that critical question, the evidence is slim and mixed. We combine information on election timing with detailed micro-targeting data that includes voter demographic information to examine how election timing influences voter composition in city elections. We find that moving to on-cycle elections in California leads to an electorate that is considerably more representative in terms of race, age, and partisanship — especially when these local elections coincide with a presidential election. Our results suggest that on-cycle elections can improve local democracy.
Keywords: Local elections, turnout, election timing, representation
JEL Classification: H70
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation