, Volume 128, Issue 3-4, pp 383-405
Date: 22 Jun 2006

Everyone likes a winner: An empirical test of the effect of electoral closeness on turnout in a context of expressive voting

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Under instrumental voting closer elections are expected to have higher turnout. Under expressive voting, however, turnout may increase with decreasing closeness when voters have a preference for winners. An empirical test using data on Belgian municipal elections supports this. We find that turnout reaches a local maximum when the largest party in the election obtains just over 52% of the seats and then falls (supporting the “instrumental” closeness-argument). There is, however, another turning point: the presence of a highly dominating party (receiving at least two-thirds of the votes) stimulates turnout despite the fact that dominance implies lower closeness.

A previous version of this paper was presented at the European Public Choice Society conference in Berlin, Germany.