Political Behavior

, Volume 28, Issue 1, pp 65–86 | Cite as

The political consequences of alienation-based and indifference-based voter abstention: Applications to Presidential Elections

  • James Adams
  • Jay DowEmail author
  • Samuel MerrillIII


We present a unified model of turnout and vote choice that incorporates two distinct motivations for citizens to abstain from voting: alienation from the candidates, and indifference between the candidates. Empirically, we find that alienation and indifference each motivated significant amounts of voter abstention in the 1980–1988 U.S. presidential elections. Using model-based computer simulations—which permit us to manipulate factors affecting turnout—we show that distinguishing between alienation and indifference illuminates three controversies in elections research. First, we find that abstention because of either alienation or indifference benefited Republican candidates, but only very modestly. Second, presidential elections involving attractive candidates motivate higher turnout, but only to the extent that abstention stems from alienation rather than from indifference. Third, paradoxically, citizens’ individual-level tendencies to abstain because of alienation are strongly affected by their evaluations of the candidates’ policies, whereas aggregate turnout rates do not depend significantly on the candidates’ policy platforms.


voter turnout abstention unified model conditional logit 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of CaliforniaDavisUSA
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MissouriColumbiaUSA
  3. 3.Department of Mathematics and Computer ScienceWilkes UniversityWilkes-BarreUSA

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