Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Ian Down

Committee Members

Anthony Nownes, Kimberly Douglass, Kyung Joon Han


In the last 50 or so years, observers have noted with concern declining rates of voter turnout in many democracies. Explanations for these declines have often focused upon institutional factors that explain differences in turnout between countries but do little to explain declines within countries. However, the suspicion remains that more dynamic factors such as the make-up of party systems or economic effects - factors which vary within countries over time – have greater potential to better explain these declines. The first substantive chapter of this dissertation considers number of parties and polarization jointly to identify the conditions under which party systems matter for turnout. Findings show that the composition of the party system as a whole is a key determinate of a voter’s propensity to vote. In addition to declining levels of turnout, there has also been a perceived narrowing of ideological diversity in many party systems, with, in particular, many parties on the left moving towards the center. The second substantive chapter of the dissertation replaces poorly performing aggregate measures of polarization and number of parties with a novel measure of left party strength. Findings show that measures of party systems that capture left party strength have a significant and substantial positive association with voter turnout. The final substantive chapter considers the effect that the economy has on turnout. While there is a strong theoretical expectation that economic hardship should be negatively associated with turnout, results have been decidedly mixed. However, I propose that patchy results are largely due to the potentially confounding effects of economic hardship and inequality. By considering both of these factors in models of turnout, the effects of each should become clearer. Furthermore, the effects of both inequality and economic hardship are predicted to affect individuals differently depending upon their socioeconomic status. By controlling for this variation and considering both economic hardship and inequality jointly with socioeconomic status, clearer associations are uncovered. Findings show that economic hardship negatively affect rates of participation for those individuals from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, while rising inequality is shown to negatively affect participation for individuals from higher socioeconomic backgrounds.

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