Scandinavian Working Papers in Economics

Working Paper Series,
Research Institute of Industrial Economics

No 596: Voter Turnout in Direct Democracy: Theory and Evidence

Morten Søberg () and Thomas P. Tangerås ()
Additional contact information
Morten Søberg: The Norwegian Parliament, Postal: Stortinget, N-0026 Oslo, Norway
Thomas P. Tangerås: The Research Institute of Industrial Economics, Postal: P.O. Box 55665, SE-102 15 Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: We analyse voter turnout as a function of referendum types. An advisory referendum produces advice that a legislature may or may not take into account when choosing between two alternatives, whereas a binding referendum generates a decisive decision. In theory, voter turnout should be higher under binding than advisory referendums, higher in small than large electorates and higher in close than less close referendums. These predictions are corroborated by evidence from 230 local referendums in Norway. For example, a shift from an advisory to a semi-binding referendum leads to an average increase in voter turnout by 11.5 percentage points.

Keywords: Voting Behaviour; Referendum Types; Rational Choice

JEL-codes: D72

23 pages, June 18, 2003

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