CiteWeb id: 20160000118

CiteWeb score: 383

Scholarship on electoral turnout has long emphasized two main themes: explanations of nonvoting in terms of individual characteristics and in terms of contextual variables. These investigations have deeply enriched our understanding of electoral participation, but their limitations have also sensitized us to the remaining problems of explanation. Perusal of the work on American politics exposes a rather striking tendency in studies of participation to ignore, or soft pedal, the effects of active political mobilization. In this article we formulate two models of electoral turnout-socioeconomic and political mobilization-and apply them to aggregate data on voting in gubernatorial elections of 1978 and 1980. The socioeconomic model of turnout includes such influences as income, age, and educational attainment. To assess the effects of political mobilization, we have considered campaign spending, partisan competition, electoral margin, and the presence or absence of a simultaneous race for the United States Senate. Both of the models perform quite well individually, producing significant and meaningful coefficients and adequate fits. Yet in the final analysis we demonstrate that quite apart from major sources of variation in gubernatorial turnout-such as region and presidential versus nonpresidential years-the mobilizing influences of campaign activism and competitiveness have a strong impact on electoral participation; electoral law, i.e., closing date of registration, retains a small but significant effect on voting for governor; and socioeconomic characteristics, included in a fully specified model, have little to contribute independently to an explanation of electoral turnout. These findings are very much in the same vein as related cross-national investigations, which emphasize the crucial role of electoral law and political parties and downplay individual characteristics as determinants of electoral participation. On the basis of the research reported here, we argue that scholars need to pay more attention to political mobilization as an explanation of electoral turnout. In the presidential election between Cox and Harding in 1920, only half of the eligible voters participated. This relatively low turnout, together with the historically minimal rates of participation in state and local elections, created deep concern among those who believed that reasonably high levels of political involvement are crucial in maintaining a healthy democratic politics. It was in this atmosphere of worry about low electoral turnout that Charles E. Merriam and Harold F. Gosnell (1924) conducted, in the City of Chicago, the first systematic study of nonvoting. Subsequently, Gosnell (1927) went even further and executed the first experimental study in modern political science, demonstrating conditions that could stimulate electoral turnout. We, too, worry about low participation in elections today at every level of government, and we believe these classic studies