Why Voter Drives

From a recent Economics & Politics:

This paper explores the link between compulsory voting and income distribution using a cross-section of countries around the world. Our empirical cross-country analysis for 91 countries during the period 1960-2000 shows that when compulsory voting can be strongly enforced the distribution of income improves as measured by the Gini coefficient and the bottom income quintiles of the population. … Because poorer countries are the ones with relatively more unequal distribution of income it might make sense to promote such voting schemes in developing regions, such as Latin America. … We also use an instrumental variables approach to further check the robustness of our results. … Regardless of the control variables used, we obtain coefficients that are statistically significant in compulsory voting.

I suspect this is the main reason people push others to vote – because added voters tend to favor their side in wealth redistribution debates.  To such pushers, the good of this outweighs added voter ignorance making other policies worse. 

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  • anon

    In the U.S., I doubt it. Elite academics promoting voting may be more concerned about issues of secularism, science policy, race, etc, and see increased turnout as strengthening the coalition that will act as they prefer on the points that matter most to them.

  • Did the distribution “improve” because the poor became better-off than they would have in a control, or because the rich made or kept less money than they would have in a control?

  • Stuart Armstrong

    To such pushers, the good of this outweighs added voter ignorance making other policies worse.

    Is that established, by the way? That controlling for other factors, increased voter participation results in worse policies?

  • alex

    A problem with the cynical self interest explanation is that cynically self-interested citizens wouldn’t bother voting or influencing other individuals to vote. Voting doesn’t pay. Entreating others to vote probably doesn’t pay either unless you have extraordinary influence.

    I speculate that drives for universal suffrage and compulsory voting have to do with resolving the cognitive dissonance between the democratic state as Hobbes’ artificial man and the messy collection of bureaucrats, lobbyists, appointees and politicians that make up our actual government. The more people participate in politics, the more real the nation, the people’s romance, the will of the people and the social contract seem.

  • frelkins

    Robin, when I read your remark: “added voters tend to favor their side. . .” it immediately reminded me a famous passage from Hegel:

    “As for popular suffrage, it may be further remarked that especially in large states it leads inevitably to electoral indifference, since the casting of a single vote is of no significance where there is a multitude of electors. Even if a voting qualification is highly valued and esteemed by those who are entitled to it, they still do not enter the polling booth.

    Thus the result of an institution of this kind is more likely to be the opposite of what was intended; election actually falls into the power of a few, of a caucus, and so of the particular and contingent interest which is precisely what was to have been neutralized.”

    — Philosophy of Right, section 311, Hegel, 1820

    This “caucus” or, to use the term favored in the Federalist Papers, “faction,” is arguably what happens. The vast majority don’t vote, and what we are left with are bitter factions looking to boost their cause.

  • jls

    “the good of this outweighs added voter ignorance making other policies worse”

    Well, the study you quote seems to say that some good does come out of compulsory voting. That added voter ignorance, and therefore worse policies, also come out of it, makes sense to me, but is it true?

    If voting is not compulsory, and noone is pushing people to vote, who votes? The best informed? The most partisan?

    Are there any studies that support your “added voter ignorance” claim?

  • On voters leading to worse policy: The Myth of the Rational Voter by Bryan Caplan. His point is that common biases, not simple ignorance, lead to worse policies. He argues that if voters were simply ignorant, and errors were randomly distributed, then the miracle of aggregation would work and the well-informed would drive policy. Prof. Caplan’s thesis is that errors are not random but skew predictably from what voters with the same values would prefer if they were better informed. Voters can indulge in feel-good “rational irrationality” because of the near-zero chance that any given vote will have a meaningful impact on policy.