Political theorists have argued that democracies should strive for high turnout, leading to an argument for the introduction of compulsory voting, one of the surest ways to increase turnout. Others have warned that this obligation comes at a
cost of lower quality votes. We investigate these claims by examining the impact of compulsory voting on proximity voting. First, we examine individuals’ voting behavior in three countries with strong compulsory voting laws: Australia, Belgium and Brazil. Election surveys in these countries include a hypothetical question about the likelihood of voting without legal obligation. We continue with an examination of the effects of compulsory voting in Switzerland, which varies across cantons. Our results support the ‘reluctant voter’ hypothesis: Compelling voters to vote tends to weaken the impact of proximity considerations on electoral behaviour, although this effect remains limited and is only significant in half of the elections that were investigated.
Ruth Dassonneville is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science at Université de Montréal where she holds the Canada Research Chair in Electoral Democracy. She is also a member of the Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship. Her main research interests are dealignment, voting behaviour, economic voting and electoral participation. Her work has been published in amongst others Electoral Studies, European Journal of Political Research, Party Politics, and West European Politics.