Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation

Does Space Matter?
Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation

Toni Rodon

ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The presentation, “Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation”, was part of a session dedicated to research using Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) data. The session, “Comparative Perspectives on Political Behaviour: Novel insights using the CSES”, was on September 4, 2016.

The concept of the ‘centre’ is overwhelmingly present in current political discourse. Labelling a candidate or party as left, right or centre is crucial to attracting voters, and highlighting this identifying factor is often employed during political debates to emphasise differences between candidates. This distinction is often raised by emerging political movements and constantly emphasised as a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for parties seeking to win an election. Discussion about the centre in political science research has not been an exception. Since Downs’ (1957) seminal work on ideology in political decision-making, the effects of convergence towards the centre, and similarly polarization, constitute a cornerstone in political science research.

Following the Downsian approach, the effect of this ideological distance has been employed multiple times in order to explain voting behaviour. Notwithstanding this popularity, a surprising gap remains: the impact of ideological distance on abstention. While the effect of ideological distance on voting for a particular party has been a popular tool, its effect on abstention has largely been ignored. This is despite the fact that in previous work Downs himself, as well as Enelow and Hinich (1984), have suggested that individuals may abstain from voting when a party’s priorities or values do not represent voters, otherwise known as “abstention because of alienation”. Voters may also abstain because of indifference between political alternatives that offer the same ideological package. Continue reading “Does Space Matter? Explaining Abstention because of Indifference and Alienation”

Announcing CSES Module 5

Announcing CSES Module 5:
Democracy Divided? People, Politicians and the Politics of Populism
Post prepared by John Aldrich, David Howell, and Stephen Quinlan

The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project is delighted to announce the launch of its fifth module, designed on the theme of Democracy Divided? People, Politicians and the Politics of Populism.  The CSES Module 5 questionnaire will be included in national post-election surveys around the world during the years 2016 through 2021.

CSES Module 5 was discussed, revised, and approved during a Plenary Session of CSES collaborators which was held in August 2016 in Philadelphia, United States, just before the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association.  The Plenary Session was attended by 44 persons representing 36 different national election studies and included a number of presentations followed by intensive discussion. Each subcommittee of the Planning Committee presented their work, and these are noted below. The Plenary included presentations on a CSES bibliography and on pretesting of the proposed (and subsequently approved) new module, each of which were conducted by the CSES Secretariat.

Group Photo from Plenary Session
Group Photo from 2016 Plenary Session (Philadelphia, United States)

Continue reading “Announcing CSES Module 5”

When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World

The 2016 GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best Scholarship using CSES data was awarded to Kimuli Kasara of Columbia University and Pavithra Suryanarayan of Johns Hopkins University for their paper "When do the rich vote less than the poor and why? Explaining turnout inequality across the world" that was published in the American Journal of Political Science in 2015.

The authors received the prize and presented their work during a reception at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Philadelphia, USA on September 2, 2016.  They kindly contributed the following synopsis of their work.


When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why?
Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World
Kimuli Kasara and Pavithra Suryanarayan

Arendht Liphart observed that “voter turnout is an excellent indicator of democratic quality” in part because he believed that the poor and socially marginal were less likely to vote (Lijphart 1999).  Lower rates of electoral participation by the economically disadvantaged, while being normatively undesirable in a democracy, also have implications for the types of parties that win elections and the policies politicians will implement once in office. For these reasons, turnout inequality has been central to the study of both political behavior and political economy. For instance, the idea that the poor participate less has been used to explain why we might not observe an expansion in redistribution after democratization as canonical political economy models predict.

Most early research on socio-economic status (SES) and voting focused on voting behavior in advanced industrialized countries where it is often the case that the wealthy vote at higher rates than the poor. Our research began with the observation that income and turnout are often negatively correlated in the contexts we study – South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This “inverse” relationship between SES and voting has been documented in isolated studies in both regions as well as in Eastern Europe. Our paper,  “When Do the Rich Vote Less Than the Poor and Why?: Explaining Turnout Inequality across the World  (American Journal of Political Science, 2015), is the first to systematically document that “inverse” turnout inequality is not rare using data on 76 countries from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) and other survey sources.  This figure from our paper, which maps the ratio of turnout rates of the wealthiest 20% in a country to turnout of the poorest 20%, shows variation in the relationship between wealth and turnout. Continue reading “When do the Rich Vote Less than the Poor and Why? Explaining Turnout Inequality Across the World”

Introducing Ainė Ramonaitė from the Lithuanian National Election Study

This is the first of our Collaborator Introduction series, where CSES collaborators discuss their research agenda and how they became involved with CSES.

Lithuania is Joining the CSES Project

Ainė Ramonaitė

Lithuania is joining the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) collaborative program of research by integrating the CSES Module 5 in their 2016 post-election survey.  Lithuania has not been represented in the CSES project since Module 1.  Lithuania was invited to join the CSES for Module 5 after a successful collaboration with CSES members in the True European Voter COST Action.

The first Lithuanian National Election Study was carried out in 2012 after their parliamentary elections. The study included a face-to-face post-election survey, an Internet panel survey, mass media monitoring during the electoral campaign, and a survey of candidates for the Lithuanian parliament.  The main purpose of the first study was to test if and to what extent the classical theories of electoral behavior could explain electoral choices of Lithuanian citizens. The results have posed as many new questions as they have answered. Continue reading “Introducing Ainė Ramonaitė from the Lithuanian National Election Study”

CSES at APSA 2016

Are you attending the 2016 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Philadelphia during September 1-4?  If so, you may be interested to attend one or more of the below presentations and panels which make use of CSES data.

If you are making a presentation which makes use of CSES data and it does not appear here, please let us know via email to:


Panel: Get it Right the First Time: Preferences for Leader Responsiveness and Reform
Thursday September 1st, 8:00 to 9:30am, Marriott, Salon I

Presentation: The Impact of Electoral- & Party-systems on Congruence from a Micro-perspective
Mirjam Dageförde, Sciences Po Paris

The principle of representation is organizing principle of modern large-scale democracies but faces to be criticized as the ongoing critical discourse about a presumed “crisis of representation” indicates. Mainly, the quality of representation is analyzed from an objective point of view and from a macro-perspective in terms of congruence.

Panel: Congruent Representation?
Thursday, September 1st, 10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Meeting Room 502

Presentation: Citizen Perceptions, Manifesto Statements, Failures of Ideological Congruence
Bingham Powell, University of Rochester

Many versions of democratic theory expect competitive elections to link the preferences of citizens to the policies of the governments that they elect. Considerable agreement has emerged on the causal chain that theoretically should connect citizens and their governments. But there are various points at which the chain can break. Continue reading “CSES at APSA 2016”

New research synopsis: Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?

Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?
Benjamin Ferland

Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition? This is a central question that has interested scholars over the last decade. As we know, proportional electoral (PR) systems favour a more accurate translation of votes into seats while majoritarian systems have the tendency to “waste” the votes of many citizens. Inter alia, therefore, proportional representation electoral systems have the benefit of representing the voice of more citizens in legislatures and in the policy-making process. Scholars have thus assumed that citizens also share and even support this view of inclusiveness in the democratic process. What is puzzling, however, is that empirical results do not support such view. The relationship between a proportional votes-seats translation at elections and citizens evaluating positively the functioning of their democracy is at best tenuous. Why do we observe this disconnection between our normative expectations of inclusion and diversity in legislatures and such null empirical findings? Furthermore, if citizens do not value fairness in the electoral competition, why might this be? I tackle these questions using the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) data in A rational or a virtuous citizenry? The asymmetric impact of biases in votes-seats translation on citizens’ satisfaction with democracy, published in Electoral Studies.

Politics as a competition between groups

A different approach is to conceive the democratic process, and elections in particular, as a competition between different groups, which want to influence the allocation of political and economic resources in society. In casting a vote, we should keep in mind that a citizen participates in this resource allocation by favouring one party over the others. This view of electoral politics is consistent, for example, with recent experimental studies that show that people tend to favour supporters of their partisan group (over non-supporters) when distributing a given some of money in series of dictator games. Overall, if we accept this view of electoral politics, our assumption about how electoral systems and especially the votes-seats translation may affect citizens’ assessment of their political system may be revised. From this perspective, instead of valuing fairness in the electoral competition, citizens should want their party to be advantaged in the electoral competition and the other parties to be disadvantaged. In other words, a citizen should prefer her party to receive a greater share of seats than votes and the other parties to receive a smaller proportion of seats than votes. Continue reading “New research synopsis: Do citizens value fairness in the electoral competition?”

CSES: A Short History and New Challenges

CSES: a short history and new challenges
Jacques Thomassen


The launch of the new Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) blog is a perfect occasion to reflect upon CSES’ 22 years history and its future challenges. CSES was a joint initiative of the established election studies in a number of European countries, since 1989 joined in ICORE, and the American National Election Studies. It was kicked off in a memorable conference in Berlin in 1994.

The pièce de résistance at this meeting was a stimulus paper written by representatives from the established election studies in Western Europe and the US. This paper focused on the effect of political institutions on political behavior and the mechanisms of representative democracy. This focus lead to a fierce debate. Representatives from developing democracies argued that the paper hardly took into account the specific problems new democracies were facing. They wanted to know what kind of political institutions would enhance people’s support for democracy. As a consequence the impact of political institutions on people’s support for democracy became a second main research topic.

Ever since its tumultuous start CSES has been a tremendous success, both from an organizational and substantive perspective. We have learned  a lot more about the impact of electoral institutions both on political behavior and people’s assessment of the performance of democracy. But what we have learned might be a bit disappointing for whoever might have thought that CSES would find us the Holy Grail containing the toolbox to design the best possible political institutions for an effective and sustainable system of representative democracy. Continue reading “CSES: A Short History and New Challenges”

About the CSES blog

Welcome to the new blog of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) project!

Through the blog, we are excited to provide a different glimpse into the work of the CSES project and its many associated scholars and broad user community. Through the blog you’ll be able to discover research that uses CSES data, learn about our election study collaborators that are located around the world,  get updates on data collection from the field, read about and discuss national elections, and receive updates about CSES and the world of comparative academic social science research more generally.

We hope you enjoy the blog! Please feel free to send comments, suggestions, and ideas to:

Yioryos Nardis and David Howell
Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES)