I’m sitting in an airport bar waiting to board my PDX-ORD flight, with an outside shot at an upgrade. I’m off to Chicago to present a paper, co-authored with my (one) Ph.D. student, on turnout. Entitled “Salience and Turnout in Second Order Elections: The Role of EU Regional Funding” we examine the role of salience in explaining electoral turnout to the European Union Parliament (EUP). Recent work on turnout has examined the question of participation from the benefit side of the classic calculus of voting, rather than the cost side (I’d list the citations, but I’m one of them). Rather than placing the onus on the individual (or demand side) and her ability to overcome the associated cost hurdles, attention is instead focused upon the electoral context (or the supply side) to which potential voters respond.
We argue that one form the benefit term can take is that as the perceived salience of an election increases, the benefits of participation likewise increase. Elections to the European Union Parliament are correctly considered largely irrelevant: the body doesn’t really matter, so people don’t bother voting for it. However, we suggest that the presence of Objective I regional funding in an EUP constituency serves to increase the visibility of the EU as a whole, which in turn increases the perceived salience of the one direct manner in which the European citizen can participate politically in the EU through traditional means.
Our N is 1601, based on a level of analysis at the NUTS2 “region”. Yes, it’s called NUTS, which is French for nomenclature d’unités territoriales statistiques, which is the primary EU statistical region. There are three levels. Our data are derived from 11 of the member states, going back to the first direct elections in 1979 where appropriate (as some member states in our data joined after 1979). In other words, all of the original EU-12, save for Greece, because . . . neither of us could make out Greek. The data were hand gathered from various official sources on the web, nearly exclusively in the native language of the country. Hence, Greece lost its chance at the fame that this paper would have conveyed upon it.
In a multivariate model, we find that the presence of Objective I funding increases turnout roughly two percentage points (from an intercept of 34%). As Objective 1 regions, by definition, enjoy less than 75 per cent of EU average GDP, this finding appears incongruous when one considers the long standing relationship between SES and turnout.
This finding is interesting from two perspectives. Theoretically, as variance in Objective I funding has no logical effect on lowering the costs of voting, it’s a good measure of the salience of the institution (and hence elections to that institution), and supports the notion that increasing the salience of an election has an observable effect on turnout. Second, our findings suggest that increasing the visibility of the EU (ideally in a positive manner) engages a greater number of citizens in what is, for all intents and purposes, an election with little potential impact on policy.
And we’ve got some pretty color maps as well. So, this is what I’m doing in Chicago for the next two nights. That and, erm, drinking beer.