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Resurrecting Turnout, Saving Democracy? Lowering the voting age, compulsory voting, and the legitimacy of election results

While there is high public support for electoral democracy worldwide, electoral turnout has been decreasing strongly in the past decades. This apparent contradiction leads to inequality between who turns out and who does not, and it is also likely to lower people’s perceptions of the legitimacy of elections. It is therefore unsurprising that political researchers and practitioners have looked for ways to increase turnout, but so far we know very little about the broader effects of these interventions. This project has as its main aim to investigate the effects of interventions to increase turnout on people’s political attitudes and behaviour, and on their perception of the legitimacy of the electoral result. I rely on a unique electoral situation that presents itself in 2024 in Belgium in which two Election Days are held in the same year, each time presenting a new electoral rule, to examine the effects of lowering the voting age to 16 years old and compulsory voting on people’s political attitudes using a more compelling design than previous research. I also include two novel conjoint experiments to investigate the effect of (interventions to increase) turnout on perceptions of the legitimacy of elections. Taken together, this project will reveal whether declining levels of turnout endanger the stability of representative democratic systems, and the extent to which interventions to increase turnout affect the legitimacy of elections.

Date:1 Oct 2023 →  Today
Keywords:Voting at 16, Compulsory voting, Legitimacy of elections
Disciplines:Public opinion, Voting behaviour, Party politics