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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Voting At All Costs : : How Demographics Affect the Costs of Voting

  • Author(s): Nielson, Lindsay
  • et al.

Although voter turnout has received considerable attention in the political science literature, scholars do not yet have a complete understanding of how the costs of voting-- which I define as the various burdens that make voting a difficult and time-consuming activity, such as requiring people to register to vote, show identification, or travel to their polling place--affect the likelihood that a person will turn out to vote. Most previous research posits that changes in voting costs affect all potential voters equally and that turnout decreases uniformly across all demographic groups as voting costs increase. However, I contend that that demographics and voting costs interact with each other to affect voter turnout : according to my theory, voter demographics affect political resources, which, in turn, affect the ability to surmount voting costs. My dissertation uses two data sources to develop models of the demographics and voting costs that affect voter turnout. I interacted these two sets of variables in a series of regression models to gain a greater understanding of how voting costs might differentially affect people based on their individual characteristics. I use national data from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to provide a large-scale test of my theory and data from the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania to model these interactions while controlling for community and campaign factors. Using these results, I identify two primary findings. First, people with traditionally higher levels of political resources (including people with higher education levels, higher incomes, those with white- collar occupations, and those who are male and white) are more likely to not turn out to vote when information costs (including voter registration deadlines and the length of the ballot in the election) are increased. Second, people with traditionally lower levels of political resources (including people with lower education levels, lower incomes, and minorities) are primarily disadvantaged by the transaction costs of voting, such as requiring voter identification. My dissertation highlights the importance of opportunity costs to the act of voting and show that not all people react to voting costs in the same way. This has important implications for scholars' understanding of why people do or do not vote, how representative the electorate is, and how the government addresses the policy priorities of its citizens

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