This paper analyzes the effect of registration deadlines on voter turnout. The theoretical explanation considers how registration deadlines affect turnout when individuals influence the participation of others. The theoretical model leads to a novel empirical hypothesis, that deadlines can have both a direct and indirect effect on turnout through a behavioral contagion process. The paper reports empirical findings that confirm the theoretical expectations. These results have important implications for future research on registration deadlines and Election Day registration as the effects of these reforms depend on the specific social context in which they are adopted.
This is a preview of subscription content,to check access.
Access this article
This is not the only possible mechanism by which individuals lead one another to vote. Other observational studies have also found that individuals are an important source of political information (e.g. Leighley 1996; Lake and Huckfeldt 1998; Cassel 1999) and involvement in social groups has been found to enhance civic skills and efficacy which are also positively related to turnout (Beck, Dalton, Greene, and Huckfeldt 2002; McClurg 2004, 2006).
Additional details of the simulation and alternative specifications are presented in Sects. A1 and A2 of the electronic supplementary material.
As discussed in the electronic supplementary material, the probabilities were varied and the results were similar across a range of values.
The thresholds were specifically drawn from a uniform distribution bound between zero and one. The parameters of the uniform distribution were chosen to match the minimum and maximum possible values of the neighborhood turnout rates. Section A2 of the electronic supplementary material reports alternative simulations which do not alter the substantive findings.
Section A2 of the electronic supplementary material reports alternative simulations which allowed the contagion process to operate indefinitely (only stopped once no individual changed their behavior for several iterations). The simulations produced substantively similar results.
Section A3 of the electronic supplementary material includes details of the data and measures and Sect. A4 of the electronic supplementary material discusses alternative analyses. The results shown in the electronic supplementary material support substantively similar conclusions.
More specifically, competitiveness is the ratio of votes cast for the winner to the sum of votes cast for the winner and closest competitor.
These are shown in the latter part of Sect. A4 of the electronic supplementary material.
Ansolabehere, S., & Konisky, D. (2006). The introduction of voter registration and its effect on turnout. Political Analysis, 14(1), 83–100.
Beck, P., Dalton, R., Greene, S., & Huckfeldt, R. (2002). Social calculus of voting: Interpersonal, media, and organizational influences on presidential choices. American Political Science Review, 96(1), 57–73.
Berelson, B., Lazarsfeld, P., & McPhee, W. (1954). Voting. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Brians, C., & Grofman, B. (2001). Election day registration’s effect on U.S. voter turnout. Social Science Quarterly, 82(1), 170–182.
Brown, R., & Wedeking, J. (2006). People who have their tickets but do not use them: “Motor voter”, registration, and turnout revisited. American Politics Research, 34(4), 479–504.
Burden, B., Canon, D., Mayer, K., & Moynihan, D. (2011). Election laws, mobilization, and turnout: The unanticipated consequences of election reform. Working paper.
Cassel, C. (1999). Voluntary associations, churches, and social participation theories of turnout. Social Science Quarterly, 80(3), 504–517.
Cutts, D., & Fieldhouse, E. (2009). What small spatial scales are relevant as electoral contexts for individual voters? American Journal of Political Science, 53(3), 726–739.
Fenster, M. (1994). The impact of allowing day of registration voting on turnout in U.S. elections from 1960 to 1992. American Politics Quarterly, 22(1), 74–87.
Fournier, P., Nadeau, R., Blais, A., Gidengil, E., & Nevitte, N. (2004). Time-of-voting decision and susceptibility to campaign effects. Electoral Studies, 23(4), 661–681.
Fowler, J. (2005). Turnout in a small world. In A. Zuckerman (Ed.), Social logic of politics. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
Gerber, A., & Green, D. (2000). The effects of canvassing, telephone calls, and direct mail on voter turnout: A field experiment. American Political Science Review, 94(3), 653–663.
Gerber, A., Green, D., & Larimer, C. (2008). Social pressure and voter turnout: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment. American Political Science Review, 102(1), 33–48.
Gimpel, J., Joshua, D., & Shaw, D. (2007). Election-year stimuli and the timing of voter registration. Party Politics, 13(3), 351–374.
Glaser, W. (1959). The family, voting turnout. Public Opinion Quarterly, 23(4), 563–570.
Gopoian, J. D., & Hadjiharalambous, S. (1994). Late-deciding voters in presidential elections. Political Behavior, 16(1), 55–78.
Hanmer, M. (2007). An alternative approach to estimating who is most likely to respond to changes in registration laws. Political Behavior, 29(1), 1–30.
Highton, B. (1997). Easy registration and voter turnout. Journal of Politics, 59(2), 565–575.
Highton, B. (2004). Voter registration and turnout in the United States. Perspectives on Politics, 2(3), 507–515.
Highton, B., & Wolfinger, R. (1998). Estimating the effects of the national voter registration act of 1993. Political Behavior, 20(2), 79–104.
Huckfeldt, R., & Sprague, J. (1995). Citizens, politics, and social communication: Information and influence in an election campaign. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.
Huckfeldt, R., & Sprague, J. (2007) Indianapolis-st. Louis election study, 1996–1997 [Computer file]. ICPSR02962-v2. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Center for Survey Research [producer], 2000. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor]. doi:10.3886/ICPSR02962.
Kenny, C. (1992). Political participation and effects from the social environment. American Journal of Political Science, 36(1), 259–267.
Knack, S. (2001). Election day registration: The second wave. American Politics Research, 29(1), 65–78.
Knack, S. (2005). Does “motor voter” work? Journal of Politics, 57(3), 796–811.
Knack, S., & White, J. (2000). Election-day registration and turnout inequality. Political Behavior, 22(1), 29–44.
Lake, R., & Huckfeldt, R. (1998). Social capital, social networks, and political participation. Political Psychology, 19(3), 567–584.
Leighley, J. (1996). Group membership and the mobilization of political participation. Journal of Politics, 58(2), 447–463.
Levine, D., & Palfrey, T. (2007). The paradox of voter participation? A laboratory study. American Political Science Review, 101(1), 143–158.
McClurg, S. (2004). Indirect mobilization: The social consequences of party contact in an election campaign. American Politics Research, 32(4), 406–443.
McClurg, S. (2006). The electoral relevance of political talk: Examining disagreement and expertise effects in social networks on political participation. American Journal of Political Science, 50(3), 737–754.
McDonald, Michael P. (2008). Portable voter registration. Political Behavior, 30, 491–501.
Mitchell, G., & Wlezien, C. (1995). The impact of legal contraints on voter registration, turnout, and the composition of the American electorate. Political Behavior, 17(2), 179–202.
Nickerson, D. (2008). Is voting contagious? Evidence from two field experiments. American Political Science Review, 102(1), 49–58.
Parry, J., Smith, D., & Henry, S. (2011). The impact of petition signing on voter turnout. Political Behavior, Forthcoming.
Rhine, S. (1995). Registration reform and turnout change in the American states. American Politics Quarterly, 23(4), 409–426.
Rhine, S. (1996). An analysis of the impact of registration factors on turnout in 1992. Political Behavior, 18(2), 171–185.
Schram, A., & Sonnemans, J. (1996a). Voter turnout as a participation game: An experimental investigation. International Journal of Game Theory, 25(3), 385–406.
Schram, A., & Sonnemans, J. (1996b). Why people vote: Experimental evidence. Journal of Economic Psychology, 17(4), 417–442.
Siegel, D. (2009). Social networks and collective action. American Journal of Political Science, 53(1), 122–138.
Squire, P., Raymond, W., & Glass, D. (1987). Residential mobility and voter turnout. American Political Science Review, 81(1), 45–65.
Straits, B. (1990). The social context of voter turnout. Public Opinion Quarterly, 54(1), 64–73.
Watts, D. (2002). A simple model of global cascades on random networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 99, 5766–5771.
Watts, D., & Strogatz, S. (1998). Collective dynamics of “small world” networks. Nature, 393, 440–442.
Wolfinger, R., & Rosenstone, S. (1980). Who votes? New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
The author would like to thank Randy Batsell, Keith Hamm, Mark Jones, Beth Miller, Mike McDonald, Bob Stein, Randy Stevenson and the reviewers and editors for helpful comments.
Electronic Supplementary Material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.