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.