The Chicken and Egg Question: Satisfaction with Democracy and Voter Turnout

The Chicken and Egg Question: Satisfaction with Democracy and Voter Turnout

by Filip KostelkaUniversity of Montreal, and André Blais, University of Montreal

Political scientists, analysts and journalists alike have long believed that the degree of satisfaction with the functioning of democracy determines the choice to vote or not to vote in elections. However, this belief relies on empirical evidence from post-electoral surveys. This is problematic since the degree of democratic satisfaction is likely to be altered by elections themselves. The present article addresses this limitation by analyzing 24 panel studies from the Making Electoral Democracy Work project, which measure both pre-election and post-election attitudes. The results demonstrate that the generally assumed causal relationship is actually reversed: voter turnout affects satisfaction with democracy and not the other way around. They also show that this reversed relationship is conditioned by election type, electoral system, and election outcomes. These findings are important because: (1) They question conventional wisdom and a large body of scientific literature; (2) They invite a more nuanced approach towards the study of the relationship between evaluations of regime performance and political participation; and (3) They emphasize the vital role of elections in shaping citizens’ perception of the democratic process.

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PS: Political Science & Politics / Volume 51 / Issue 2 / April 2018