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Forced to vote, but not for women. The effect of compulsory voting on voting for women

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Abstract

Compulsory voting is an underexposed factor of the electoral system that possibly influences women’s descriptive representation. Studlar and McAllister (Eur J Polit Res 41(2):233–253, 2002) found a negative effect, but no theoretical explanations were given. We develop two possible explanations: voters who only vote because they have to are less politically sophisticated, and therefore vote less sophisticatedly, and/or they have different attitudes about women in political life. From our study, we are able to detect a gendered effect of compulsory voting in Belgium’s flexible-list PR system, but only the vote sophistication explanation is confirmed. Voters who would no longer vote without compulsory voting significantly vote more for top candidates (mostly men) and give significantly less preference votes for candidates lower down the list. This points us to the complexity of the ballot structure as an important new dimension that could help explain gendered voting effects of compulsory voting systems. Finally, since different effects for formal and descriptive representation appear, we posit that compulsory voting constitutes a dilemma for women activists.

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Fig. 1

Notes

  1. Owing to the intensive and time-consuming coding work of the mock ballot forms, it was only feasible to examine one kind of election.

  2. CAPI—computer-assisted personal interviewing—is an interview technique in which the respondent or interviewer uses a computer to answer the questions.

  3. A random sample was drawn from the National Register, including the inhabitants of Flanders and Wallonia (not the Brussels Region) who were eligible to vote in the elections of May 25, 2014, and were no more than 85 years old. Those who refused to participate are not arbitrarily spread: this often involves people in a precarious social situation, lower-skilled people or people who have little or no interest in society and politics. The sample is thus not perfectly representative. The sample was weighted to obtain a good representation of the population in terms of gender, age and level of education.

  4. CATI—computer-assisted telephone interviewing—is a telephone surveying technique in which the interviewer follows a script provided by a software application.

  5. All respondents who participated in the first wave were invited to participate in the post-electoral wave. Also, here, the general disadvantage about the representativeness of the sample holds.

  6. A second wave of the survey was carried out immediately after the elections. With several elections in 1 day, people tend to quickly forget which party they voted for and which candidates they cast a preference vote for. Therefore, a few days before the elections, all respondents received three booklets containing mock ballots for the lists and candidates in their district for the election of the European, Flemish or Walloon and federal parliament. Respondents were asked to record this vote immediately after casting their actual vote (for which lists and which candidates). After the elections, they were contacted by telephone (between May 26 and July 1, 2014). Based on the completed mock ballots, respondents could precisely tell what votes they cast. The information on the voting behaviour is thus very accurate.

  7. We are fully aware that there might be differences between reported voter turnout in surveys and actual turnout (Karp and Brockington 2005). These differences are caused by social desirable answers and memory failure. The latter is not a problem here as our central variable does not concern voting behaviour in the past, but prospective behaviour. As for the social desirability, there are mechanisms to increase reliability (Belli et al. 1999). It has been shown that the use of a scale with more than two dichotomous categories (yes or no) helps. This is exactly what we do here (by giving respondents the possibility to choose between always, often, sometimes and never).

  8. Other gender-related items were included in the questionnaire, but as they mainly concerned the appropriateness of the use of instruments to overcome underrepresentation (such as quota, penalties for parties or companies, and gender neutral education), they are not used in this analysis.

  9. We calculated the Cronbach alpha for a construct underlying both statement 1 and statement 2, but this is rather low with 0.301. Therefore, we treat these two statements separately.

  10. We also ran a logistic regression analysis with an interaction term between gender and the political sophistication variables, but since these interactions were not significant, the added value of this analysis is limited. In order to not to confuse the readers, it was left out of this article.

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Wauters, B., Devroe, R. Forced to vote, but not for women. The effect of compulsory voting on voting for women. Acta Polit 53, 469–487 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-017-0065-x

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