Heterogeneity in turnout rates across regions and the nationalization of party systems

Abstract

This article focuses on explaining the variation in turnout rates across districts within a country, a dimension of electoral participation with important political consequences. I argue that the nationalization of party systems is the main factor that drives heterogeneity in turnout rates. The causal mechanism operates through the impact of local party systems. When the nationalization of the party system is low, there are differences in the number and/or the type of local parties changing the voting incentives across districts. As a consequence, low nationalized party systems tend to enhance differences in turnout rates within the polity. Using data from Western Europe legislative elections and alternative nationalization indices, I provide evidence supporting this hypothesis. This article also considers the impact of modernization, ethnic fractionalization and different components of the electoral system.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Of course, the decomposition of national turnout rates can be done in terms of different units such as districts, municipalities or even polling stations. In this research, I focus exclusively on the variation of turnout at the district level for two reasons. First, ‘most available datasets on the territorial structure of electoral results are aggregated at the level of electoral districts’ (Bochsler, 2010, p. 156), so that cross-national comparison is easier in contrast to smaller units. Second, the district is the basic level where political forces are at play (Cox, 1997, 1999; Singer and Stephenson, 2009) and therefore, it is the appropriate level for testing hypotheses that relate electoral dynamics and turnout.

  2. 2.

    As Monroe and Rose (2002) note: ‘With the exception of countries that use exclusively single-member districts (e.g., plurality systems, such as in the United Kingdom, run-off systems as in France, or alternative vote systems as in Australia) or that use only a single national district (e.g., Israel), most national legislatures are elected using districts that vary in magnitude’ (p. 68).

  3. 3.

    The same correlations have been performed with the logarithm of the number of districts, displaying non-statistically significant results.

  4. 4.

    There are four families of nationalization indices: indices of frequency, of variance, of distribution and inflation measures. Inflation indices are useful for three reasons. First, they are centred on party systems as units of analysis. Second, these indices require less information as only districts and national electoral results are required, which allows us to maximize the number of observations. Finally, inflation indices have been increasingly used in the literature and using them makes my research and findings more comparable.

  5. 5.

    The effective number of parties is calculated as follows:

    where p is the proportion of votes obtained by party i in the election (Laakso and Taagepera, 1979).

  6. 6.

    The three indices are highly correlated. Pairwise correlation between D and Iw is 0.85, between D and E −0.52 and between I w and E −0.83. All are statistically significant at a 1 per cent level.

  7. 7.

    Average district magnitude is collected from databases of Cox (1997), Caramani (2000) and Golder (2007).

  8. 8.

    It is expected that the marginal impact of adding a new district will decrease as the number of constituencies at stake grows.

  9. 9.

    It can be argued that there is a strong association between this measure of competitiveness and the (log) number of districts/(log) average magnitude, but it is not the case. The correlation between competitiveness and (log) average magnitude is 0.14; while with (log) number of districts is 0.1.

  10. 10.

    Alesina et al (2003) index is constructed:

    where s ij is the proportion of group i (I=1…N) in country j.

  11. 11.

    Ethnic and linguistic fractionalization indices are highly correlated among them while the religious it is not to the same extent. The correlation is 0.84 and statistically significant at a 1 per cent level.

  12. 12.

    GDP data source: Groningen Growth and Development Center database http://www.rug.nl/research/ggdc/data/.

  13. 13.

    The logarithm of GDP per capita has been used.

  14. 14.

    In large N comparison, it is extremely complicated to get reliable data to measure heterogeneity and inequality across districts. Therefore, relying on proxies is the only alternative to consider its potential intervening effect.

  15. 15.

    Data from UNU-WIDER database. www.wider.unu.edu/home/en_GB/index/.

  16. 16.

    The CLEA website includes many measures of nationalization for many countries and elections for download. CLEA Effective Number of Parties and Nationalization Dataset [CLEA, at www.electiondataarchive.org].

  17. 17.

    There are problems related with data availability that justify the restriction of the analysis to Western Europe. First, in several elections, turnout at the district level is not available, especially in African and Latin American countries. Second, in some cases, there are no data for specific districts, which create additional problems of comparison within the units of analysis. Finally, there are countries with very few elections, which can decompensate the panel data when a longitudinal analysis is carried out.

  18. 18.

    Voters have to provide a legitimate reason for abstention, or face a fine sanction. They can be disfranchised if they have abstained from four elections within 15 years and may face greater difficulties in getting a job in the public sector.

  19. 19.

    A Hausman test confirmed that there is no correlation between the unobserved heterogeneity and the independent variables, assumption of random-effects model.

  20. 20.

    On the one hand, Klein´s test has been performed in order to test the presence of multicollinearity, supporting the presented model. On the other hand, the models have been reproduced excluding inflation and ethnic fractionalization alternatively but only the first variable is statistical significant at a 1 or 5 per cent level.

  21. 21.

    It can be argued that proportionality – especially PR systems – in the electoral system can affect turnout at the national level (Blais and Carty, 1990). It makes sense to introduce it as a control variable assuming that district magnitude is correlated with proportionality (Cox, 1999). No relevant change takes place when (log) average district magnitude replaces the number of districts.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to acknowledge Ignacio Lago, André Blais, Marc Guinjoan, José Ramón Montero and Eva Anduiza for their thoughtful and useful comments and suggestions. He would also like to thank the two anonymous reviewers of this article for their insightful comments and acknowledges financial support from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, research project CSO2010-1639.

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Simon, P. Heterogeneity in turnout rates across regions and the nationalization of party systems. Acta Polit 51, 173–193 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2015.3

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Keywords

  • nationalization
  • turnout
  • inflation
  • modernization
  • party systems