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More and Better Choice = More Voters! Go Figure!


An article of mine was just published days ago in the latest issue of Party Politics, which is one of the top Political Science journals in the UK.  This one, like a bunch of my stuff, concerns turnout.  I take a practical approach to turnout; where many argue that voting is the norm and non-voters are dysfunctional somehow, I argue the opposite.  The benefits one receives from voting are marginal, the probability of your single vote making the difference impossibly small, thus the costs outweigh the benefits, however marginal those costs are.  Of course, those costs increase at the margins for potential voters of lesser faculties, which in part explains the strong association between education and turnout.

I look at a number of countries, 28 I think (I know, I know . . . I wrote it, I should know), comparing the richness of the electoral market.  Like how stores with greater selection will have more customers, electoral markets with greater selection will have more voters.  Bonus if the better store also has cheaper prices.  In electoral politics, cheaper prices can be arranged through simple things, like having election day on a weekend, extended polling hours (or at least shorter lines!), etc.  It’s also possible to have cheaper prices through something as mundane as accurate partisan cues, which is one reason why judicial elections in my home state of Washington often feature serious drop off on the ballot.  
So in this thing, I argue that electoral ‘stores’ that feature a greater range of choice, and choices closer to the voters’ own views, while controlling for the usual range of individual (such as SES, education or interest) and institutional (electoral system, compulsory voting, age of the democracy, etc.) explanations, are associated with higher levels of turnout.   [Thanks to commenter Matt for pointing out the poor writing in the original.]  The data support both propositions.  In fact, it turns out that electoral context as measured through overall ideological coverage (e.g. more choice) and ideological proximity (e.g. better choice) are stronger, more substantive explanations than the usual suspects (e.g. age, education, or even electoral system).
This all sounds like a no brainer, but this is the first paper to make and empirically test these arguments.  I’ve included a link to the paper above, but with the increasing commercialization of academic presses, this journal is now published by Sage, hence my distribution rights are severely restricted (I am technically not allowed to post the paper on a “web site” among other things).  If you happen to be at an institution that has a subscription to Party Politics, you have access; otherwise, if you’re interested send me a private email and I’ll send you the pdf.  The paper itself relies on some fairly sophisticated statistical modeling, but not too high tech (just four OLS erm, Logistic regression models and two HLM 2-level models), and there’s a fairly low-tech figure that illustrates some of the stuff in handy black and white.
The argument I really want to make is one that I do make in a class I teach on the effects of globalization on domestic politics: that the range of choice, and quality of choice, in electoral politics has narrowed over time, and this explains the general decline of turnout that established democracies have been experiencing since the end of WWII.  While I have no idea how I could empirically pin this narrowing of ideological choice on globalization, I also do not have sufficient time series data for the 28 or however many countries I use in this paper.  What I’ll end up doing, in the book version, is using three or four or five countries where I can find sufficient time points as well as the right measures in the surveys . . . 
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