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Do Lower Wages and Higher Unemployment Increase Voter Turnout?

(Digital Vision)


A recent study by Kerwin Charles and Melvin Stephens, Jr. argues that increases in wages and employment reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections, though not in presidential contests.
From the abstract:

This paper argues that, since activities that provide political information are complementary with leisure, increased labor market activity should lower turnout, but should do so least in prominent elections where information is ubiquitous.  Using official county-level voting data and a variety of OLS and TSLS models, we find that increases in wages and employment: reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount; have no effect on Presidential turnout; and raise the share of persons voting in a Presidential election who do not vote on a House of Representative election on the same ballot.
We argue that this pattern (which contradicts some previous findings in the literature) can be fully accounted for by an information argument, and is either inconsistent with or not fully explicable by arguments based on citizens’ psychological motivations to vote in good or bad times; changes in logistical voting costs; or transitory migration.

The authors find that increases in mean county per capita earnings and mean per capita employment are associated with lower gubernatorial turnout. The results indicate that a 10% increase (roughly a standard deviation) in county labor market activity between elections lowers voter turnout by between 3% to 4%.
This year there are four gubernatorial elections: Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky and West Virginia, which is holding a special election for governor today, Oct. 4. Unemployment has increased in all four states over the last four years. So if the authors’ model is correct, voter turnout will be substantially higher in all four states than in 2007.


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