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Blais- Voter turnout

Blais- Voter turnout - 6 Apr 2006 15:59 AR...

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Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2006. 9:111–25 doi: 10.1146/annurev.polisci.9.070204.105121 Copyright c 2006 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved First published online as a Review in Advance on Dec. 12, 2005 W HAT A FFECTS V OTER T URNOUT ? Andr´e Blais Department of Political Science, Universit´e de Montr´eal, Montreal PQ H3C 3J7, Canada; email: [email protected] Key Words institutions, electoral systems, party systems, closeness Abstract Why is turnout higher in some countries and/or in some elections than in others? Why does it increase or decrease over time? To address these questions, I start with the pioneer studies of Powell and Jackman and then review more recent research. This essay seeks to establish which propositions about the causes of variations in turnout are consistently supported by empirical evidence and which ones remain ambiguous. I point out some enigmas and gaps in the field and suggest directions for future research. Most of the research pertains to established democracies, but analyses of nonestablished democracies are also included here. INTRODUCTION The dominant view in the literature is that the existing research on voter turnout has established some robust patterns, that we know relatively well why turnout is higher in some countries than in others, and that the main factors that affect variations in turnout are institutional variables. My verdict is different. Many of the findings in the comparative cross-national research are not robust, and when they are, we do not have a compelling microfoundation account of the relationship. And the impact of institutional variables may be overstated. THE PIONEER STUDIES The study of voter turnout started with Powell’s (1982) award-winning book, Contemporary Democracies , which posited electoral participation as one of the three main indicators of democratic performance, and two American Political Science Review articles by Powell (1986) and Jackman (1987). Powell’s APSR article examined mean turnout in 17 countries in the 1970s. He found turnout to be higher in countries with “nationally competitive districts” and “strong party-group linkages.” Nationally competitive districts enhance turnout because “parties and voters have equal incentive to get voters to the polls in all parts of the country” (Powell 1986, p. 21), and vote choice is simpler when and where groups (e.g., unions, churches, professional associations) are clearly asso- ciated with specific parties (Powell 1986, p. 22). Powell’s main conclusion is that 1094-2939/06/0615-0111$20.00 111 Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 2006.9:111-125. Downloaded from arjournals.annualreviews.org by Rutgers University Libraries on 01/10/10. For personal use only.
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112 BLAIS American turnout is inhibited by its institutional context, and the main emphasis is on party-group linkages, which is the most powerful variable in his model.
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