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A comparative study of compulsory voting
Author: Sarah Birch

This is a book-length study of compulsory voting. About a quarter of all democracies in the contemporary world legally oblige their citizens to vote, making this an important aspect of electoral systems in many settings. Moreover, numerous commentators and policy-makers in voluntary voting states are coming to see mandatory attendance at the polls as an attractive option in the context of declining turnout. Yet, we know relatively little about this practice beyond its effects on rates of electoral participation; there has been a dearth of systematic examination of the way in which compulsory voting shapes attitudes, behaviour and outcomes in the political process. This book seeks to fill that gap by providing a comprehensive description, analysis and evaluation of compulsory voting as it is practiced throughout the world. Specifically, the study systematically examines the history of the institution, the normative arguments for and against it, and the influence it has on a range of political phenomena. These include electoral campaigns, political attitudes, electoral integrity and legitimacy, policy outcomes and turnout. The book also considers the feasibility of introducing compulsory voting in a contemporary democracy, as well as variations on the institution designed to broaden its appeal.

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Sarah Birch

This book provides a detailed overview of the history, practice, causes and effects of the legal obligation to vote, as well as an analysis of the normative arguments surrounding it. Recent debates about the possibility of introducing mandatory voting in those states where going to the polls remains voluntary call for a detailed discussion of the normative advantages and disadvantages of this institution. This chapter specifies what exactly is meant by the term ‘compulsory voting’. It seeks to conceptualise and construct a typology of electoral obligation, before examining variations in the way the institution of compulsory voting has been implemented in different states.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter details the history of the institution of mandatory electoral participation, tracing the idea back to medieval times and showing how it has developed in the modern state. It goes on to examine common reasons why compulsory electoral participation has been introduced and it closes with an overview of the contemporary use of this institution for elections to lower or only houses of parliament.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter outlines and assesses the principal normative arguments that have been made for and against compulsory electoral participation. These claims fall into three principal categories: arguments relating to rights and duties, legitimacy and collective rationality arguments, and evaluations of the practical consequences of making electoral participation mandatory. After reviewing these arguments, the chapter then summarises the empirical claims made by normative theorists whose main objective is to test these claims.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter is devoted to considering how compulsory electoral participation affects electoral campaigns and related attitudes. It seeks to determine the impact of this institution on campaign-related behaviour and dispositions relevant to campaigns. Compulsory electoral participation can be expected to alter the incentive structure voters face when considering elections. It will thus invariably alter the way in which those seeking to win their votes appeal to the electorate, and, in turn, the way voters react to electoral campaigns. From the perspective of electoral contestants, the main difference between an election held under voluntary voting and one held under compulsory turnout is that in the former it is necessary to place emphasis on mobilisation to get one's supporters to the polls, whereas in the latter this is taken care of by the legal framework.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter turns to the topic that has received the greatest amount of attention from those who have studied the institution of compulsory voting: aggregate turnout. The question of concern in this chapter is how efficient compulsory voting really is in improving turnout levels. The discussion aims to review previous analyses of the impact of mandatory voting laws on rates of participation, and to assess the conditions under which such laws are most likely to be associated with substantial change in the rates of voting.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter considers the influence of compulsory voting on electoral integrity and the overall legitimacy of the political system. Reducing electoral abuse and improving electoral integrity were among the most important reasons for the introduction of compulsory attendance at the polls in many states. It is therefore worth considering whether making electoral participation mandatory improves the conduct of elections and thereby improves confidence in the political process. This chapter tests the hypothesis on the basis of case studies as well as aggregate data. It also considers whether mandatory voting enhances the legitimacy of the democratic process overall.

in Full participation
Sarah Birch

This chapter explores the impact of compulsory electoral participation on those political outcomes viewed as most significant, as well as those that can most intuitively be expected to result directly from the institution. It examines three such impacts: the impact of compulsory electoral participation on rates of female participation; the distribution of partisan support (the balance between small and large parties, moderate and extremist parties, and left-right forces); and the fairness of policy outputs, understood in terms of redistributive policy and quality of governance.

in Full participation
Abstract only
Sarah Birch

This chapter concludes the book, summarising the findings of the study and providing an overall evaluation of compulsory electoral participation on the basis of these results. It speculates as to the likelihood that electoral compulsion will be adopted in democracies where going to the polls is voluntary. The chapter also considers alternatives to making electoral participation a legal obligation, as well as possible modifications to the institution.

in Full participation
Abstract only
A critical election?
Sarah Birch

This chapter steps back from the chaos of recent British electoral politics to locate the 2019 general election in a wider comparative context. It shows how many of the economic, social and political changes that led to Brexit were by no means exceptional. Deindustrialisation, ageing populations, the underemployment of young people, the rising cost of housing and climate change have affected a wide range of societies. New conflicts have placed strains on existing party systems, and parties across the globe have adapted with varying degrees of success. Nevertheless, the UK’s unique constitutional arrangements and party system continue to make its electoral politics so distinctive. The chapter ends by considering the particular risk of democratic backsliding in a system that has weak checks and balances.

in Breaking the deadlock