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Why is Turnout Higher in Some Countries than in Others?

Executive Summary

The purpose of this study was to determine the impact of certain institutional variables on electoral participation. The study covers a total of 151 elections held in 61 "democratic" countries since 1990. The analysis is based on two measurements of voter turnout, using either the population of voting age or the number of people registered on the electoral lists as the denominator.

The research shows that:

  1. voter turnout is a dozen points higher in countries where voting is compulsory, provided there is a penalty for failing to vote;
  2. turnout is 5 to 6 points higher in countries where the electoral system is proportional or mixed compensatory;
  3. turnout is some 10 points higher in countries where it is possible to vote by mail, in advance or by proxy than in countries where none of these options are available.

The data do not show, however, a systematic effect of elector registration methods. Nor does it appear that voter turnout is any higher in countries where polling day is a holiday.

It can be concluded that institutional factors such as compulsory voting and the voting system affect voter turnout, but so do administrative measures that determine how easy it is to vote.