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Bias in self-reported voting and how it distorts turnout models: disentangling nonresponse bias and overreporting among Danish voters
Most nonexperimental studies of voter turnout rely on survey data. However, surveys overestimate turnout because of (1) nonresponse bias and (2) overreporting. We investigate this possibility using a rich dataset of Danish voters, which includes validated turnout indicators from administrative data for both respondents and non-respondents, as well as respondents’ self-reported voting from the Danish National Election Studies. We show that both nonresponse bias and overreporting contribute significantly to overestimations of turnout. Further, we use covariates from the administrative data available for both respondents and nonrespondents to demonstrate that both factors also significantly bias the predictors of turnout significantly. In our case, we find that nonresponse bias and overreporting masks a gender gap of two and a half percentage points in women’s favor as well as a gap of 25 percentage points in ethnic Danes’ favor compared with Danes of immigrant heritage.
Living Together, Voting Together: Cohabitation Causes Concordance in Turnout Behavior, and Increases Turnout
Scholars have long noted that couples are more likely to vote and that partners’ turnout behavior is strongly correlated, but so far, little causal evidence has explained why. Utilizing a large Danish administrative data set with detailed information about the timing of individuals moving in together, we tease out whether these correlations are causal effects of interpersonal influence or stem from other factors. To identify the causal effect, we argue that couples moving in together right before an election are comparable to households moving together right after the election. We find strong evidence for a substantial causal effect of interpersonal influence: Concordance increases by twelve to seventeen percentage points while turnout increases by four to nine percentage points as an effect of cohabitation. The results highlight the importance of social norms and how the household as a proximate social network plays an essential role in explaining couples’ turnout behavior.
Citizens who abstain from voting in consecutive elections and inequality in turnout in democratic elections constitute a challenge to the legitimacy of democracy. Applying the law of dispersion, which stipulates higher levels of turnout and higher levels of equality in turnout are positively related, we study turnout patterns across different types of elections in Denmark, a high-turnout European context. Across three different elections with turnout rates from 56.3 to 85.9 percent, we use a rich, nationwide panel dataset of 2.1 million citizens with validated turnout and high-quality sociodemographic variables. Nine percent of the citizens are abstainers in the three consecutive elections, and these are disproportionately male, of non-Western ethnic background, with little education, and with low income. The law of dispersion finds support as inequalities in turnout increase when turnout decreases and vice versa. Furthermore, municipalities with lower turnout have higher inequalities in participation than high-turnout municipalities in local elections.
We investigate how election information such as opinion polls can influence voting intention. The bandwagon effect claims that voters ‘float along’: a party experiencing increased support receives more support and vice versa. Through a large national survey experiment we find evidence of a bandwagon effect among Danish voters. When voters are exposed to a news story describing either an upwards or downwards movement for either a small or large party, they tend to move their voting intentions in the according direction. The effect is strongest in the positive direction, i.e., when a party experiences increased support more follows. We find consistent effects across two different parties, for a diverse national sample in a political context very different from those that have characterized earlier research on the bandwagon effects. Considering previous research and the fact that we do not find evidence that suggests that the effect of polls vary across socio-demographic groups, our results imply that bandwagon behavior is based not on social or political contingencies, such as media or political institution, but on fundamentals of political cognition.
Can Governments Use Get Out The Vote Letters to Solve Europe’s Turnout Crisis? Evidence from a Field Experiment
Declining levels of turnout are a problem in European elections. Are Get Out The Vote campaigns the solution to the problem? While many studies have investigated such campaigns in the US, we know little about their effect in Europe. We present a field experiment in which encouragements to vote in an upcoming Danish election are delivered using direct personal letters to more than 60,000 first-time voters. Eight different letters are designed based on the calculus of voting and prospect theory. The sample is randomly divided into treatment groups or the control group. Using validated turnout, we find small positive effects of receiving a letter on turnout, with little difference across letters. The letters mostly mobilized voters with a low propensity to vote and thus increased equality in participation. In sum, while letters have some effect, they are not likely to be a panacea for solving Europe’s turnout challenges.
How are Voters Influenced by Opinion Polls? The Effect of Polls on Voting Behavior and Party Sympathy
Similar to all other types of information, public opinion polls can influence public opinion. We present two hypotheses to understand how polls affect public opinion: the bandwagon and the underdog effect. The bandwagon effect claims that voters “jump on the bandwagon,” which means that if a party is gaining in the polls, the party will gain additional support from the voters, and vice versa if the party is losing in the polls. The underdog effect suggests that if a party is losing in the polls, the party will gain some sympathy votes to offset this loss. We use a survey experiment to test the two hypotheses. We find evidence of the bandwagon effect, and the effect is strongest in the positive direction. When voters learn that a party is gaining in the polls, voters will be more likely to vote for it. There is also some evidence for the negative bandwagon effect. We find no evidence for the underdog effect. The effects head in the same direction regardless of the size of the party. We conclude by discussing the implications of our findings with regards to a potential ban on publishing opinion polls.
Using close election outcomes, we identify a personal effect of incumbency on the probability of seeking election, and seeking and winning office in subsequent elections for elected officials in an Open List Proportional System. In many cases Danish local elections creates an as-if random distribution of candidates that are elected or not, which is an ideal setting for a Regression Discontinuity design. The incumbency advantage has been studied to a great extent, though primarily in pluralistic electoral systems, while more recent studies have extended the scope to Proportional Representation systems. This study adds to this budding literature by showing an advantage in a new context and focusing on candidate level electoral returns under conditions where candidates are arguably least likely to benefit from incumbency.