Project

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Compulsory Voting

Applicant Föllmi Reto
Number 141317
Funding scheme Project funding (Div. I-III)
Research institution Schweiz. Institut für Aussenwirtschaft und angewandte Wirtschaftsforschung Universität St. Gallen
Institution of higher education University of St.Gallen - SG
Main discipline Economics
Start/End 01.02.2013 - 31.07.2015
Approved amount 222'305.00
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All Disciplines (2)

Discipline
Economics
Political science

Keywords (4)

Compulsory Voting ; Political Economy; Causal Inference; Political Behavior

Lay Summary (English)

Lead
Lay summary

The (re-)introduction of compulsory voting laws and their abolishment has been a frequently debated political issue in Switzerland and many other democratic countries. In addition to the normative debate surrounding compulsory voting, there is also a positive literature discussing its political consequences. One of the key debates over compulsory voting involves its effects on overall turnout and how these additional voters have different policy preferences than the prior constituency which subsequently leads to more redistribution, higher spending for welfare and education, and higher public debts and tax rates.

To date, empirical research on the causal effects of compulsory voting has made limited progress, in large part due to methodological impediments. Existing studies have mostly relied on crude, cross-national comparisons. By exploiting a natural experiment, namely the introduction and subsequent abolishment of compulsory voting laws in selected Swiss cantons, we identify the causal effects of compulsory voting on turnout, welfare spending, tax rates, and public debts. We will collect a new, fine-grained database covering the above outcomes and their relevant predictors for all Swiss cantons from 1890-2000, to overcome the methodological problems.

Our project will make an important contribution to the understanding of the effects of political participation and compulsory voting on turnout and redistribution. Our study is theoretically significant, because our newly collected dataset will for the first time allow us to document and analyze the effects of compulsory voting using a credible, sub-national design. Our pilot results indicate that compulsory voting almost doubles turnout in federal election. Collecting additional canton- and municipal-level data across a long time-period is critical to pin down the potentially heterogeneous effects of compulsory voting. Our nuanced cross-cantonal comparisons will contribute to the core debates in the literature about the effects of compulsory voting on turnout, political collective action, redistribution, welfare spending, taxes, and public debts.

Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants

Employees

Publications

Publication
Compulsory Voting, Habit Formation, and Political Participation
Bechtel Michael M., Hangartner Dominik, Schmid Lukas (2018), Compulsory Voting, Habit Formation, and Political Participation, in Review of Economics and Statistics, 467.
Does Compulsory Voting Increase Support for Leftist Policy?
Michael M. Bechtel, Dominik Hangartner, Lukas Schmid (2016), Does Compulsory Voting Increase Support for Leftist Policy?, in American Journal of Political Science, 752.

Collaboration

Group / person Country
Types of collaboration
Prof. Dr. Jens Hainmueller - Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States of America (North America)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results
Prof. Dr. Kenneth Benoit - London School of Economics Great Britain and Northern Ireland (Europe)
- in-depth/constructive exchanges on approaches, methods or results

Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
Forschungsseminar Stanford University Individual talk Does Compulsory Voting Increase Support for Leftist Policy? (presented by Michael Bechtel) 12.11.2014 Stanford, United States of America Hangartner Dominik;
Forschungsseminar Institut für Soziologie Individual talk Compulsory Voting and Political Collective Action 26.06.2014 Bern, Switzerland Hangartner Dominik;
SVPW Jahreskongress Talk given at a conference Direct democracy, turnout and the public policy effect of compulsory voting 30.01.2014 Bern, Switzerland Hangartner Dominik;
EPSA Conference Talk given at a conference Compulsory Voting and Political Collective Action 21.06.2013 Barcelona, Spain Hangartner Dominik;
Seminar Labor Economics Talk given at a conference Compulsory Voting (presented by Lukas Schmid) 16.05.2013 Zürich, Switzerland Föllmi Reto;
Brown Bag Seminar Universität St. Gallen Individual talk Direct Democracy, Turnout, and the Public Policy Effects of Compulsory Voting (presented by Lukas Schmid) 20.03.2013 St. Gallen, Switzerland Föllmi Reto;


Abstract

The (re-)introduction of compulsory voting laws and their abolishment has been a frequently debated political issue in Switzerland and many other democratic countries. The debates over compulsory voting laws expose, at least to some degree, often a societal fault line. On the one hand, some advocacy groups and policymakers support a general introduction of compulsory voting laws. Compulsory voting is seen as a remedy against low voter turnout, especially among the low-skilled and low-educated, and as a device to encourage political participation and collective action in general. On the other hand, opponents of compulsory voting laws interpret the right to vote to also include the right not to vote and argue that compulsory voting is a paternalistic violation of individual liberty. Given the decreasing levels in turnout, the debates about compulsory voting laws are likely to continue to grow in the years ahead.In addition to the normative debate surrounding compulsory voting, there is also a positive literature discussing its political consequences. One of the key debates over compulsory voting involves its effects on overall turnout and how these additional voters have different policy preferences than the prior constituency (Tingsten 1937, Lijphart 1997) which subsequently leads to more redistribution, higher spending for welfare and education, and higher public debts and tax rates. To date, empirical research on the causal effects of compulsory voting has made limited progress, in large part due to methodological impediments. Existing studies have mostly relied on crude, cross-national comparisons. By exploiting a natural experiment, namely the introduction and subsequent abolishment of compulsory voting laws in the canton of Thurgau between 1904 and 1964 , we identify the causal effects of compulsory voting on turnout, welfare spending, tax rates, and public debts. We will collect a new, fine-grained database covering the above outcomes and their relevant predictors for all Swiss cantons from 1890-2000, to overcome the methodological problems.Our project will make an important contribution to the understanding of the effects of political participation and compulsory voting on turnout and redistribution. Our study is theoretically significant, because our newly collected dataset will for the first time allow us to document and analyze the effects of compulsory voting using a credible, sub-national design. Our pilot results indicate that compulsory voting almost doubles turnout in federal election. Collecting additional canton- and municipal-level data across a long time-period is critical to pin down the potentially heterogenous effects of compulsory voting. Our nuanced cross-cantonal comparisons will contribute to the core debates in the literature about the effects of compulsory voting on turnout, political collective action, redistribution, welfare spending, taxes, and public debts.Finally, our project is also important from a policy perspective. Past and present compulsory voting laws are highly relevant policy issues in Switzerland and will continue to gain importance in the light of decreasing levels of political participation. But despite these frequent and at times heated debates, there exists almost no systematic empirical evidence that could inform these normative policy discussions. Systematic data is absent even for basic facts, such as the direct effects of compulsory voting on turnout as well as its indirect effects on levels of redistribution, tax rates and public debts. Our study will fill this void by collecting critical evidence and conducting a comprehensive analysis of the effects of compulsory voting over the last 110 years. We think it is imperative to conduct this study now while the historical records are still available.
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