Turnout Inequality across Post-industrial Democracies: Why Policy Context Matters

Author: ORCID icon orcid.org/0000-0003-3756-8962
Oh, Hyunjin, Foreign Affairs - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Schwartz, Herman, Department of Politics, University of Virginia

This dissertation studies differences in the levels of unequal participation across post-industrial democracies and the circumstances under which political inequality from the unequal distribution of socioeconomic resources is moderated. Existing studies generally conclude that low-income people are less likely to turn out to vote in advanced countries. Little attention has been devoted to examining the extent to which the turnout gap varies across countries or the reason why the turnout gap between the rich and the poor differs between countries. Furthermore, while previous studies have focused on institutional factors from the input-side of the democratic process, there are only a few studies that discuss the role of the output-side factors in shaping citizen’s attitudes and behaviors. This study argues that it is important to examine conditioning effects of social policy context on the relationship between individual resources and voting. Drawing on the policy feedback literature, first I hypothesize that generous spending on active labor market policies may narrow the turnout gap between the rich and the poor by equalizing the opportunities and lowering the psychological hurdles to voting for the poor. Using survey data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems on citizen’s attitudes and participation across 27 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, I find that in countries with a higher spending on labor market activation, the turnout gap between the rich and the poor decreases. Second, the provision of childcare services also taps into social investment to activate women with young children across post-industrial democracies. I provide evidence for the hypothesis that higher public spending on childcare services has a boosting effect on the participation of women, thereby attenuating another cleavage in turnout: gender gap. Finally, as psychological mechanisms mediating between public policy and political participation, I test whether ALMPs (Active Labor Market Policies) spending weakens the impact of income on participatory attitudes such as political efficacy, satisfaction with democracy, and partisan identification. Indeed, individuals in countries with a greater commitment to ALMPs report stronger political efficacy and psychological attachment to a political party. Taken together, the results show that the positive impact of labor market policies on people’s participatory attitudes and electoral turnout is more powerful among the socially underprivileged. The findings of this study add to the literature of comparative political behaviors and policy research by jointly assessing micro and macro determinants of political participation and examining the ways in which social policy shapes individual political attitudes and participation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Turnout inequality , Social policy
Issued Date: