How compulsory voting shapes citizens and political parties

  • Date:
  • Time: 4.00-5.30pm
  • Location: Social Sciences Building, Room 14.33, University of Leeds

In this seminar, CDE Associate Member Dr Shane Singh, will discuss his work on compulsory elections and behavioural outcomes. He will draw from the monograph he is currently working on, entitled Beyond Turnout: how compulsory voting shapes citizens and political parties.

Turning out to vote is legally required in nearly 30 countries. While Bulgaria, Samoa, and two Indian states have recently adopted compulsory voting, Chile and Cyprus both switched from mandatory to voluntary rules in the past decade. When policymakers deliberate over compulsory voting, their arguments generally centre on its upward impact on turnout, the legal and moral justifiability of an obligation to vote, and the feasibility of implementation and enforcement. Broader effects on citizens and parties are rarely considered.

In this book, Dr Singh formulates and tests a comprehensive theory about how compulsory voting affects both groups. With regard to citizens, he argues that compulsory voting can amplify the anti-system attitudes and behaviours of those who are negatively oriented toward democracy, while reinforcing the pro-system attitudes and behaviours of strong democrats. Regarding parties, he argues that, for mainstream parties, mandatory voting incentivizes movement toward the centre of ideological space. For non-mainstream parties, alternatively, he expects that mandatory voting incentivizes vote seeking at the extremes.

To test his theory, Dr Singh compares parties and voters in countries with and without compulsory voting, and, to establish causality, he takes advantage of the research opportunity that arises in countries that allow voluntary turnout among certain age groups. Results of multilevel and discontinuity-based regression models are largely supportive of his expectations. Policymakers considering the implementation or abolition of compulsory voting should be aware that, beyond increasing turnout, it can have a polarizing impact on both citizens and political parties.