Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 2, pp 395–414 | Cite as

Protesting via the Null Ballot: An Assessment of the Decision to Cast an Invalid Vote in Latin America

  • Mollie J. CohenEmail author
Original Paper


Rates of invalid voting in Latin America are among the highest in the world. Yet, scholars have not reached an agreement about whether these votes are driven by voter protest and, if so, what voters are protesting. Understanding whether these high invalid vote rates signify anti-democratic tendencies is particularly relevant given recent recessions in democratic quality across the region. This paper presents a theoretical framework and empirical tests using individual level data from 14 Latin American countries to show that invalid voting in presidential contests is used by individuals, particularly those high in knowledge, to protest poor government performance. However, invalid voting is not, on balance, an anti-system behavior. While political alienation differentially predicts invalid voting in countries with mandatory vote laws, the link between performance assessments and self-reported invalid voting is consistent across various contextual features that scholars link to invalid voting behavior.


Invalid voting Null voting Latin America Political behavior Protest vote 



I thank Liz Zechmeister, Zeynep Somer-Topçu, Tim Power, Jon Hiskey, Mitch Seligson, Cindy Kam, the Comparative Politics and LAPOP working groups at Vanderbilt University, and four anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments on earlier versions of this manuscript. I thank the Latin American Public Opinion Project and its major supporters (the United States Agency for International Development, the Inter-American Development Bank, and Vanderbilt University) for making the data available.

Supplementary material

11109_2017_9405_MOESM1_ESM.docx (127 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 126 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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