Growing into Voting: Election Turnout among Young People and Habit Formation

Academic dissertation for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Economics

Author(s): Richard Öhrvall
Year: 2018Pages: 168Publisher: Linköping UniversityCity: Linköping
ISBN: 978-91-7685-216-3

This thesis contains an introduction and four essays that together address the issues of turnout and habitual voting. Although voting is less unequal than other forms of political participation, it is still biased in favour of more socially affluent citizens. 

One way to achieve more equal participation is to increase the general turnout. This is the implication of the `law of dispersion', formulated by Tingsten in 1937, which states that as turnout increases, participatory equality also increases. In Essay I, co-written with Mikael Persson and Maria Solevid, we revisit Tingsten's law and find new empirical support for it.

One possible path to improving general turnout is the formation of voting habits. It is argued by some scholars that voting is a habit formed early on in life, when young people encounter their first elections after coming of age. It is, however, still a matter of debate as to whether voting is an act of habit. Three of the four essays in this thesis tackle this question in various ways. In Essay II, I study voting among young people who encounter their first election in different social contexts depending on their age, and how these differing contexts affect their propensity to vote in their first and second election. In Essay III, I examine whether experiencing a European Parliament election with a low turnout as a first election affects the likelihood of casting a vote in a subsequent national parliamentary election. In Essay IV, co-written with Sven Oskarsson, we study student mock elections, which constitute the first, albeit hypothetical, election experience for many young people.

The main result is that the first election a young person faces is not as important as has been claimed in previous research. Regardless of whether the initial experience takes place in a context that encourages turnout or the first election encountered is a low-stimulus election that fails to draw crowds to the polls, there is no substantial impact on turnout in subsequent elections. One implication of this finding is that lowering the voting age is not likely to increase voting rates, not even in the longer term.

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Öhrvall, Richard (2018), Growing into Voting: Election Turnout among Young People and Habit Formation. Doctoral Dissertation in Political Science. Linköping: Linköping University.

Richard Öhrvall


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Interdisciplinary European Studies

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This book explores the complex and ever-changing relationship between the European Union and its member states. The recent surge in tension in this relationship has been prompted by the actions of some member state governments as they question fundamental EU values and principles and refuse to implement common decisions seemingly on the basis of narrowly defined national interests.

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