AJPS Author Summary – Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote Seeking Strategies

Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking StrategiesAuthor Summary by Shane P. Singh

Compulsory voting is used in around 30 countries, many of which have only recently adopted the requirement to vote. Meanwhile, a number of countries have switched from mandatory to voluntary voting in recent years. In the run-up to these changes, politicians and commentators regularly deliberated over the putative advantages and drawbacks of compulsory voting.

To this end, it is important that compulsory voting’s consequences are well understood. It is well known that it increases turnout and generally makes voters more reflective of the entire electorate. There is also a burgeoning literature on the effects of compulsory voting on vote choices, the success of the left and right, political sophistication, and attitudes toward democracy. But, little is known about how compulsory voting shapes the behavior of political parties.

In my article, I advance a theory about compulsory voting’s effects on parties’ vote seeking strategies. I argue that, due to their beliefs about the character of compelled voting populations, parties see more value in emphasizing their issue stances and ideological positions where voting is mandatory than where it is not. As a result, I predict that parties will pivot toward programmatic vote seeking strategies and away from clientelistic tactics, such as vote buying, under compulsory voting.

I test my predictions with three separate studies. In Study 1, I show that, across countries, compulsory voting is positively associated with programmatic vote seeking and negatively associated with vote buying. In Study 2, I show that Thailand’s adoption of compulsory voting boosted programmatic vote seeking. And, in Study 3, I show that compulsory voting in Argentina leads parties to avoid certain vote buying tactics. Taken together, the findings of the three studies indicate that compulsory voting leads parties to place more emphasis on issues and ideology when seeking votes.

While my findings update the understanding of the effects of compulsory voting beyond turnout, they may also help to inform debates over compulsory voting’s impact on electoral integrity. Proponents of compulsory voting often argue that it is linked to cleaner elections. In recent deliberations in Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, and Mexico, for example, some political leaders argued that mandatory voting reduces vote buying. In line with these arguments, my finding of a link from compulsory voting to programmatic, as opposed to clientelistic, vote seeking suggests that compulsory voting could indeed enhance the integrity of elections.

About the Author: Shane P. Singh is Associate Professor in the Department of International Affairs within the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia. Singh’s research “Compulsory Voting and Parties’ Vote‐Seeking Strategies” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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