Civic Duty and Voter Turnout

  • André Blais
  • Christopher H. Achen
Original Paper


We argue that two different sets of considerations shape the decision to vote or abstain in an election–ethical and non-ethical. First the citizen may vote out of a sense of duty. Failing that, she may vote because she has strong preferences about the outcome of the election. Abstention occurs when neither duty nor a sufficiently strong preference is present. The implication is that while duty and preference each have strong positive effects on turnout, they also have a negative interaction effect, since the impact of preference is much weaker among those with a sense of duty. We present a wide array of empirical evidence that systematically supports our claim that the turnout decision is importantly shaped by this causal heterogeneity. Thus a turnout model misses something fundamental if it does not take into account the effect of civic duty.


Duty Turnout Preference Ethical voting 



We thank Charles Beitz, Robert George, and Alan Patten for helping us navigate the political theory literature on political obligation and the duty to vote. Larry Bartels and Aram Hur gave us the benefit of a careful reading of an early version. The Princeton Department of Politics supplied research funds, as did the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. We also benefited from dedicated and professional research assistance by Simon St-Vincent and Jason Roy. We thank the reviewers for their very helpful comments and suggestions. The data for replication are posted at openICPSR.

Supplementary material

11109_2018_9459_MOESM1_ESM.docx (156 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 156 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of MontrealMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Politics DepartmentPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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