Testing the Participation Hypothesis: Evidence from Participatory Budgeting

Abstract

This paper examines the impact of local participatory democracy initiatives on individual voter turnout in ordinary elections, using the example of participatory budgeting (PB). Such initiatives often aspire to create more activated citizens, but there is still limited empirical research validating these claims. We link participants in New York City’s participatory budgeting process to their state voter file records to test whether PB increases participants’ likelihood of voting in regular elections. We use coarsened exact matching to identify similar voters from council districts where PB was not implemented. Comparing PB voters to similar individuals who were not exposed to PB, we find that engaging with participatory budgeting increased individuals’ probability of voting by an average of 8.4 percentage points. In addition, we find that these effects are greater for those who often have lower probabilities of voting—young people, lower educated and lower income voters, black voters, and people who are the minority race of their neighborhood.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1
Fig. 2
Fig. 3
Fig. 4
Fig. 5
Fig. 6

Notes

  1. 1.

    These goals were explicitly stated in the official rule books for PB in each of these cities (City of Vallejo 2013 and PBNYC 2013). These goals have not been not idle words hidden in formal documents; themes of political transformation and democratic renewal have pervaded the outreach materials, framing of meetings and public events, and the explicit hopes for PB shared between observers and practitioners in the field.

  2. 2.

    See up to date info on where PB is happening in North America here: https://www.participatorybudgeting.org/case-studies/ (Accessed 12/21/2020).

  3. 3.

    For more information on participatory budgeting in New York City, particularly in the earlier years of its implementation, see the accounts in Gilman (2013), Johnson (2017), Community Development Project (2015), and Su (2017).

  4. 4.

    With the exception of one district, only capital projects are eligible for PB funding, not operations funding.

  5. 5.

    In New York City the “delegates,” who develop and deliberate on the proposed projects, represent on average 2% of the total voting body in a District.

  6. 6.

    Political efficacy is generally an outcome of interest because it is available as a self-reported characteristic, and, importantly, is seen as being an important predictor of further political participation (Gastil and Xenos 2010; Abramson and Aldritch 1982; Finkel 1985a, b).

  7. 7.

    Replication code and instructions to access data are available at https://github.com/csjohns/pb-voter-turnout. Individual level data was provided in partnership with New York Civic Engagement Table who retain the data but will make it freely available to researchers wishing to replicate the work upon request. Please follow contact instructions in the GitHub repository.

  8. 8.

    We use the 5-year 2011–2015 American Community Survey estimates, accessed directly from R using the acs package.

  9. 9.

    Two different cycles of Freedom of Information Act requests failed to elicit machine readable election results or results at the election district (the equivalent of precinct in most other jurisdictions).

  10. 10.

    In addition, a small subset of voters whose votes were recorded in 2012 in centrally held records, but who were not definitely assigned to a PB district are also included, as the first PB votes in the city occurred in 2012 and thus we are confident of recording these voters’ initial experience with PB.

  11. 11.

    See Online Appendix for detail on demographic balance of PB and non-PB voters before and after matching.

  12. 12.

    An extensive literature on statistical matching methods exists. For a good review of different methods, see King et al. 2011; Iacus et al. 2012; or Stuart 2010.

  13. 13.

    With many more controls than PB voters, we randomly sample one matching control individual for every PB voter in each strata. An alternative would be to allow many matches from the control population and then use appropriate weights in the subsequent regressions. With our relatively large treatment case sample size, one-to-many matching with weights actually provides a larger sample than is necessary to fit reliable and informative models, while significantly increasing complexity and computation time.

  14. 14.

    See the Online Appendix for comparisons across match specifications.

  15. 15.

    See Angrist and Pischke (2008) for a introduction to difference-in difference models of increasing complexity.

  16. 16.

    8.4% (95% CI 7.8–9%) is the marginal effect of the post-treatment variable in the best-fitting difference-in-difference model, without including any interactions of the post-treatment indicator with other covariates, calculated with the R margins package.

  17. 17.

    Model selection processes used in-sample percent correctly predicted and AIC/BIC criteria to identify and exclude appropriate transformations and redundant variables, such as a census-tract flag for majority white population (this variable was not informative once race and flag for majority race membership was included).

  18. 18.

    Thanks to an anonymous reviewer for suggesting this ‘placebo’ framing of a non-PB comparison group.

  19. 19.

    Note, it is not entirely clear what the causal story behind the small district-level effect of PB may be. It could be that the effect of PB has has absorbed district characteristics correlated with the introduction of PB or it could be that the assorted effects of PB on community networks and civil society produce spillover effects that mean even non-voters are more activated in subsequent election cycles.

  20. 20.

    See the online appendix for more detail on the balance of in- and out-of-sample PB voters

References

  1. Abramson, P. R., & Aldrich, J. H. (1982). The decline of electoral participation in America. American Political Science Review, 76, 502--521. https://doi.org/10.2307/1963728.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Adman, P. (2008). Does workplace experience enhance political participation? A critical test of a venerable hypothesis. Political Behavior, 30(1), 115–138. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-007-9040-y.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Angrist, J. D., & Pischke, J. S. (2008). Mostly harmless econometrics: An empiricist’s companion. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Ansolabehere, S., & Hersh, E. (2012). Validation: What big data reveal about survey misreporting and the real electorate. Political Analysis, 20(4), 437–459. 23359641.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Baiocchi, G. (2003). Emergent public spheres: Talking politics in participatory governance. American Sociological Review, 52–74, 3088902.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Baiocchi, G., & Ganuza, E. (2014). Participatory budgeting as if emancipation mattered. Politics & Society, 42(1), 29–50. https://doi.org/10.1177/0032329213512978.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Baiocchi, G., Heller, P., & Silva, M. K. (2011). Bootstrapping democracy: Transforming local governance and civil society in Brazil. Stanford University Press.

  8. Barber, B. R. (1984). Strong democracy: Participatory politics for a new age. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Barreto, M. A., Segura, G. M., & Woods, N. D. (2004). The mobilizing effect of majority–minority districts on Latino turnout. The American Political Science Review, 98(1), 65–75.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Blais, A., & Achen, C. H. (2018). Civic duty and voter turnout. Political Behavior, 18, 1–25. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9459-3.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Boulianne, S., Chen, K., & Kahane, D. (2020). Mobilizing mini-publics: The causal impact of deliberation on civic engagement using panel data. Politics, 40(4), 460–476. https://doi.org/10.1177/0263395720902982.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Cabannes, Y. (2004). Participatory budgeting: A significant contribution to participatory democracy. Environment and Urbanization, 16(1), 20.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Cancela, J., & Geys, B. (2016). Explaining voter turnout: A meta-analysis of national and subnational elections. Electoral Studies, 42, 264–275. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2016.03.005.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Community Development Project. (2012). A people’s budget: A research and evaluation report on the pilot year of participatory budgeting in New York City. Tech. rep., Urban Justice Center, New York, NY.

  15. Community Development Project. (2013). A people’s budget: A research and evaluation report on participatory budgeting in New York City: Cycle 2. Tech. rep., Urban Justice Center, New York, NY.

  16. Community Development Project. (2014). A people’s budget: A research and evaluation report on participatory budgeting in New York City: Cycle 3. Tech. rep., Urban Justice Center, New York, NY.

  17. Community Development Project. (2015). A People’s Budget: A Research and Evaluation Report on Participatory Budgeting in New York City - Cycle 4. Tech. rep., Urban Justice Center.

  18. Cox, G. W., & Munger, M. C. (1989). Closeness, expenditures, and turnout in the 1982 us house elections. American Political Science Review, 83(1), 217–231.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Crum, T., Salinas, E., & Weber, R. (2013). Building a People’s Budget: Research and Evaluation Report on the 2012-2013 Participatory Budgeting Process in Chicago. Tech. rep., Great Cities Institute: University of Illinois at Chicago.

  20. Denny, K., & Doyle, O. (2009). Does voting history matter? Analysing persistence in turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 53(1), 17–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Eliasoph, N. (1998). Avoiding politics: How Americans produce apathy in everyday life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Finkel, S. E. (1985a). Reciprocal effects of participation and political efficacy: A panel analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 29(4), 891. https://doi.org/10.2307/2111186.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Finkel, S. E. (1985b). Reciprocal effects of participation and political efficacy: A panel analysis. American Journal of Political Science, 29(4), 871.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Fowler, J. H. (2006). Habitual voting and behavioral turnout. The Journal of Politics, 68(2), 335–344.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Fraga, B. L. (2016a). Candidates or districts? Reevaluating the role of race in voter turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 60(1), 97–122. 24583053.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Fraga, B. L. (2016b). Redistricting and the causal impact of race on voter turnout. The Journal of Politics, 78(1), 19–34. https://doi.org/10.1086/683601.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Franklin, M. N. (2004). Voter turnout and the dynamics of electoral competition in established democracies since 1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Fung, A., & Wright, E. O. (2003). Thinking About Empowered Participatory Governance. In A. Fung & E. O. Wright (Eds.), Deepening Democracy: Institutional Innovations in Empowered Participatory Governance, no. 4 in The Real Utopias Project, Verso (pp. 3–44).

  29. Gastil, J., & Dillard, J. P. (1999). Increasing political sophistication through public deliberation. Political Communication, 16(1), 3–23. https://doi.org/10.1080/105846099198749.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. Gastil, J., & Xenos, M. (2010). Of attitudes and engagement: Clarifying the reciprocal relationship between civic attitudes and political participation. Journal of Communication, 60(2), 318–343. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2010.01484.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Gastil, J., Deess, E. P., Weiser, P., & Meade, J. (2008). Jury service and electoral participation: A test of the participation hypothesis. The Journal of Politics, 70(2), 351–367. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381608080353.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Gastil, J., Deess, E. P., Weiser, P. J., & Simmons, C. (2010). The jury and democracy: how jury deliberation promotes civic engagement and political participation. New York: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Shachar, R. (2003). Voting may be habit-forming: Evidence from a randomized field experiment. American Journal of Political Science, 47(3), 540–550.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Gerber, A. S., Green, D. P., & Larimer, C. W. (2008). Social pressure and voter turnout: Evidence from a large-scale field experiment. American Political Science Review, 102(01), 33–48. https://doi.org/10.1017/S000305540808009X.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Geys, B. (2006). Explaining voter turnout: A review of aggregate-level research. Electoral Studies, 25(4), 637–663. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2005.09.002.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Gilman, H. (2013). The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America. (Doctoral Dissertation). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses., Harvard University.

  37. Gilman, H. R. (2016). Democracy reinvented: Participatory budgeting and civic innovation in America. Washington: Brookings Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Gonçalves, S. (2014). The effects of participatory budgeting on municipal expenditures and infant mortality in Brazil. World Development, 53, 94–110.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Grillos, T. (2014). Youth Lead the Change: The City of Boston’s Youth-Focused Participatory Budgeting Process. Pilot year evaluation, Harvard University.

  40. Hagelskamp, C., Rinehart, C., Silliman, R., & Schleifer, D. (2016). Public Spending, By the People: Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2014–15. Tech. rep., Public Agenda.

  41. Hersh, E. D., & Nall, C. (2016). The primacy of race in the geography of income-based voting: New evidence from public voting records. American Journal of Political Science, 60, 289--303. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12179.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Hibbing, J. R., & Theiss-Morse, E. (2002). Stealth democracy Americans’ beliefs about how government should work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Iacus, S. M., King, G., & Porro, G. (2012). Causal inference without balance checking: Coarsened exact matching. Political Analysis, 20(1), 1–24. https://doi.org/10.1093/pan/mpr013.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Irvin, R. A., & Stansbury, J. (2004). Citizen participation in decision making: Is it worth the effort? Public Administration Review, 64(1), 55–65. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-6210.2004.00346.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Jacobs, L. R., Cook, F. L., & Delli Carpini, M. X. (2009). Talking together: Public deliberation and political participation in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Johnson, C. (2017). Engaging democracy: An institutional theory of participatory budgeting. PhD thesis, University of Washington.

  47. Jovanovic, S., & Russell, V. (2016). Greensboro Participatory Budgeting 2015–2016 Research and Evaluation Report. Tech. rep., University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

  48. Kam, C. D., & Palmer, C. L. (2008). Reconsidering the effects of education on political participation. The Journal of Politics, 70(3), 612–631. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022381608080651.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. King, G., Nielsen, R., Coberley, C., & Pope, J.E. (2011). Comparative effectiveness of matching methods for causal inference. Retrieved December 12, 2020, from, https://j.mp/2nydGlv

  50. Lerner, J., & Schugurensky, D. (2007). Who learns what in participatory democracy: Participatory budgeting in Rosario, Argentina. Democratic Practices as Learning Opportunities

  51. Macedo, S. (2005). Democracy at risk: How political choices undermine citizen participation and what we can do about it. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Mansbridge, J. (1995). Does participation make better citizens? The Good Society, 5(2), 4–7.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Mansbridge, J. (1999). On the idea that participation makes better citizens. In: Stephen L. Elkin & K. E. Sołtan (Eds.), Citizen Competence and Democratic Institutions. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

  54. Matsusaka, J. G., & Palda, F. (1993). The downsian voter meets the ecological fallacy. Public Choice, 77(4), 855–878.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  55. Mayer, A. K. (2011). Does education increase political participation? The Journal of Politics, 73(3), 633–645. https://doi.org/10.1017/S002238161100034X.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Morrell, M. E. (2005). Deliberation, democratic decision-making and internal political efficacy. Political Behavior, 27(1), 49–69. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-005-3076-7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Myers, C. D., Gordon, H. G., Kim, H. M., Rowe, Z., & Goold, S. D. (2018). Does group deliberation mobilize? The effect of public deliberation on willingness to participate in politics. Political Behavior, 42, 557. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9507-z.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Nabatchi, T. (2010a). Addressing the citizenship and democratic deficits: The potential of deliberative democracy for public administration. The American Review of Public Administration, 40, 376–399. https://doi.org/10.1177/0275074009356467.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Nabatchi, T. (2010b). Deliberative democracy and citizenship: In search of the efficacy effect. Journal of Public Deliberation, 6(2), 1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Nabatchi, T., & Amsler, L. B. (2014). Direct public engagement in local government. The American Review of Public Administration, 44, 63S–88S. https://doi.org/10.1177/0275074013519702.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. Nabatchi, T., & Leighninger, M. (2015). Public participation for 21st century democracy. Hoboken: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  62. Norris, P. (2011). Democratic deficit: Critical citizens revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Pateman, C. (1970). Participation and democratic theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  64. Pateman, C. (2012). Participatory democracy revisited. Perspectives on. Politics, 10(01), 7–19. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1537592711004877.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Plutzer, E. (2002). Becoming an habitual voter: Inertia, resources, and growth in young adulthood. American Political Science Review, 96(1), 41–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  66. Putnam, R. D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Rowe, G., & Frewer, L. J. (2005). A typology of public engagement mechanisms. Science, Technology, & Human Values, 30(2), 251–290. https://doi.org/10.1177/0162243904271724.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Sondheimer, R. M., & Green, D. P. (2010). Using experiments to estimate the effects of education on voter turnout. American Journal of Political Science, 54(1), 174–189. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1540-5907.2009.00425.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  69. Stuart, E. A. (2010). Matching methods for causal inference: A review and a look forward. Statistical Science : A Review Journal of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, 25(1), 1–21. https://doi.org/10.1214/09-STS313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Su, C. (2017). From Porto Alegre to New York City: Participatory budgeting and democracy. New Political Science, 39(1), 67–75. https://doi.org/10.1080/07393148.2017.1278854.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Talpin, J. (2011). Schools of democracy: How ordinary citizens (sometimes) become competent in participatory budgeting institutions. Bergen: ECPR Press.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Tenn, S. (2007). The Effect of Education on Voter Turnout. Political Analysis, 15(04), 446–464. https://doi.org/10.1093/pan/mpm012.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Touchton, M., & Wampler, B. (2014). Improving social well-being through new democratic institutions. Comparative Political Studies, 47(10), 1442–1469.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Verba, S., Schlozman, K. L., & Brady, H. E. (1995). Voice and equality: Civic voluntarism in American politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  75. Wampler, B. (2008). When does participatory democracy deepen the quality of democracy? Lessons from Brazil. Comparative Politics, 41(1), 61–81. 20434105.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Wampler, B. (2012). Entering the state: civil society activism and participatory governance in Brazil. Political Studies, 60, 341–362. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9248.2011.00912.x.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  77. Wampler, B., McNulty, S., & Touchton, M. (2018). Participatory Budgeting: Spreading Across the Globe. Tech. rep., Transparency and Accountability Initiative.

  78. World Bank (2008) Toward a more inclusive and effective participatory budget in Porto Alegre: Main report. Tech. Rep. 40144-BR, World Bank, Washington, D.C.

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the New York Civic Engagement Table, Participatory Budgeting-New York City, Participatory Budgeting Project, Christopher King, Peter Ramand, and Loren Peabody for collaboration and sharing of PB voter data as well as Christopher Adolph, Laine Rutledge, and two anonymous reviewers for helpful advice regarding methodology and presentation.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Carolina Johnson.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Supplementary Information

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Electronic supplementary material 1 (HTML 4525 kb)

Appendix: Sub-group Interaction Model Estimates

Appendix: Sub-group Interaction Model Estimates

See Table 3.

Table 3 Individual voter turnout difference-in-difference regression results: including sub-group interactions for ‘triple-difference’ results

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Johnson, C., Carlson, H.J. & Reynolds, S. Testing the Participation Hypothesis: Evidence from Participatory Budgeting. Polit Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-021-09679-w

Download citation

Keywords

  • Participatory budgeting
  • Participatory democracy
  • Voter turnout
  • Civic engagement
  • Political mobilization