Which factors influence voter turnout?

Turnout Factors. A quantitative empirical study on the 2013 National Council election in Austria

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2. Literature review

3. Theoretical frame of reference
3.1. The Rational Choice Approach: The Rational Choice Theory
3.2. Objective of the present work

4. Research design
4.1. Description of the dataset: AUTNES Pre- and Post-Election Survey 2013
4.2. The dependent variables voter participation and reported voter participation
4.3. The independent variables: bivariate analyzes
4.3.1. Indicators of the electoral norm: civic duty, conscience and social environment
4.3.2. Indicators of the party differential: an end in itself from politics and democracy
4.3.3. The factors of knowledge, political interest and social status
4.3.4. Indicators for the possibility of influencing political events
4.3.5. Other socio-demographic factors
4.4. Summary of the independent variables to be included
4.5. Multivariate regression analysis

5. Summary and critical discussion of the results

6. Conclusion and outlook


1 Introduction

Against the background of the steadily decreasing voter turnout in the last decades, this thesis deals with the factors to be set relevant for the decision of the individual to or against the voter turnout. The analyzes are limited to the Austrian National Council elections in 2013; the AUTNES Pre- and Post-Election Survey 2013 is used as the data basis. The theory of rational voting forms the theoretical framework. The aim of the work is to find the main determinants of voter participation and abstention from voting within this framework. The main factors that positively correlate with voter turnout are the strength of the voting norm, the extent of political knowledge or interest, the frequency with which reports on political topics are monitored in the media and the (positive) opinion of politicians. In addition, the primary social environment, the level of education and the assessment of the general economic situation are also relevant.

2. Literature review

There are numerous studies that deal with the determinants of voter participation and the underlying motivations of the electorate about the decline in voter turnout in recent decades. Specifically, with the turnout for the National Council in 2013 and on the basis of the data set used here, too Glantschnigg et. al. (2014), Aichholzer et al. (2014) and Johann et al. (2014) apart.1 In Aichholzer et. The factors of lack of political knowledge, lack of political interest and political cynicism turn out to be relevant factors in abstaining from voting, as well as low religious ties and migration background. Other factors that can be found in the literature and that showed relevance in various ways in the studies are age, gender, level of education, residential area, social / socio-economic status, social integration and the influence of the institutional (associations, trade unions, strength of party ties, etc.) and private Environment (family, friends, colleagues, etc.) as well as disenchantment with politics.2 Finally, the studies by Blais et al. (2000) and Bold and ear (1996) because, like this work, they are based on a rational choice approach, as does the study by Goerres, (2010), which deals in detail with the social norm of voter turnout.

3. Theoretical frame of reference

The rational choice approach, the theory of the rationally acting individual, was chosen as the theoretical frame of reference. The advantage of the rational choice theory lies in its economical and direct explanatory approach; it also seems suitable for the process of the often perceived increasing individualization3 to be fair, as it starts with the individual motives. In the following, the rational choice approach is first briefly presented and the paradox of not voting is also discussed. Subsequently, the theory of the rationally choosing individual is adapted for the present work and, based on this, the objective of this work is finally specified.

3.1. The Rational Choice Approach: The Rational Choice Theory

At this point, the rational choice approach to explaining voter turnout should be used and in accordance with Downs transferring the concept of homo oeconomicus to voting behavior and thus from a rational and selfish acting "homo politicus"4 can be assumed. The basic assumption behind this conception is simple: The act of choice becomes an act of individual benefit maximization, in which the individually most advantageous alternative is chosen after a rational weighing of costs and benefits.5

The from Downs developed and Riker and Odershook However, explicit theory shows a deficiency, because it leads to the so-called electoral paradox, since it cannot explain the high turnout. From a rational point of view, weighing up costs and benefits must regularly lead to not taking part in elections. Riker and Odershook illustrate the paradox of choice as follows:6

Figure not included in this excerpt

R (reward) is the personal benefit from the voting act; B (differential benefit) the so-called party differential, i.e. the individual benefit from the victory of the preferred party over competing parties; P (probability) the probability that the individual act of choice will bring about the desired result; C the costs of voting, for example in terms of time and information.

Since the probability P, i.e. to tip the scales and cast the decisive vote, is extremely low and approaches zero, the product of P * B also regularly leads to zero, which means that the costs cannot be outweighed and the participation does not appear rational in a choice.

As a result, numerous attempts have been made to resolve this paradox of choice and to allow the cost-benefit analysis to lead to a positive reward. Downs For example, he added a factor D (democracy) to his model, which generates an additional benefit based on the interest in maintaining democracy through voter participation, which is independent of the election result.

Riker and Odershook take over this factor D, but name it as “duty” and in this way emphasize the social norm (voting norm) for participation in democratic elections, understood by the individual as “civic duty”, which is based on the motivation of maintaining the collective good democracy. However, this argument is not entirely convincing, because non-voters can also benefit from the common good of maintaining democracy. However, it becomes the voting norm as a pressure to participate through the social environment7 or as socially constructed and sanctioned behavior8 Understood, this social voting norm - and all the more a possible statutory voting obligation - shows itself to be suitable for influencing the decision for or against voting and, if necessary, to be internalized in the course of socialization.9 This is completely independent of whether the effect of the voting norm is viewed as causing psychological costs or as resulting in material disadvantages.

The statutory regulations on compulsory voting, as they existed in Austria up to 1992, speak in favor of a certain internalization of the voting norm - at least with regard to middle-aged and older people. The Federal Constitutional Act provided with Article 26, Paragraph 1 up to the 1992 constitutional amendment (BGBl. 470/1992) the possibility of the state legislature ordering compulsory elections for National Council elections. Styria, Tyrol, Vorarlberg and, between 1986 and 1992, Carinthia also made use of this regulation and made voting compulsory for elections to the National Council. The 1994 National Council election was the first National Council election without compulsory voting. It is interesting that the voter turnout for the National Council election between 1970 and 1986 was just over 90%, in 1990 - shortly before the constitutional amendment - it fell to 86.1%, in 1994 it fell to 81.9% and subsequently almost continuously to the low of 74.9% in 2013.10 It may be added that the electoral paradox is put into perspective by the ever-lower voter turnout, which is perhaps not least due to a softening of the voting norm. This can be seen more clearly in the EU elections with an Austrian turnout of just 46% in 2014 or the Austrian federal presidential elections with a turnout of just 53.6% in 2010.


1 All in Kritzinger et al. (Ed.) 2014.

2 See especially Faas 2013; Picker / Zeglovits 2005; Kühnel 2001; Bürklin / Klein 1998; Kleinhenz 1995; Eilfort 1994.

3 See especially Beck 1986.

4 Downs 1957, p. 7.

5 Detailed on the theories of rational action in Political Science Braun 1999.

6 Riker / Odershook 1968, p. 25.

7 See especially Kühnel / Ohr 1996, p. 45 ff.

8 Goerres 2010, p. 277 ff.

9 See especially Täube 2002, pp. 35 ff. For a comprehensive analysis of the social norm of voter turnout see especially Goerres 2010.

10 For information on voter participation in national elections in Austria since 1945, see e.g. Aichholzer et al. 2014, p. 177.

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