Feb. 20, 2018Print | PDF
My recent publication, "Compulsory voting and voter information seeking," is a collaborative piece written with a colleague of mine, Shane Singh, from the University of Georgia. In this work, we assess the impact of compulsory voting on the information search individuals undertake before casting a ballot. To do so, we developed an online voting platform that allowed us to record the amount of information individuals considered, along with the time they spent considering this information, prior to deciding their vote in a mock election. The study was conducted in Australia, where voting in federal elections is compulsory.
This work is representative of my primary research interest that focuses on factors, such as individual-level characteristics and institutional complexity, which influence how individuals form political preferences. I am especially interested in how differences in the deliberation process influence outcomes. In this study, our intent was to provide further insight into how compulsory voting may produce lower "quality" votes; votes that do not match with an individual's actual preferences. The central hypothesis contends that individuals who feel compelled to vote will engage in a less detailed information search prior to casting a ballot relative to those who vote voluntarily. Our results support our expectations, even after taking into account differences in individual levels of political sophistication (a combination of political knowledge and interest).
One of the surprising findings from this work reflects the use of voting heuristics. As part of this study, we incorporated an experiment where half of the sample was randomly assigned to a treatment group that was presented with poll information (a voting heuristic) while the other half (the control group) was not. We assumed that individuals who felt compelled to vote would also be more apt to draw upon the poll information, further reducing their vote deliberation effort when presented with this information short-cut. Our results indicate that this is not the case; compelled voters were no more (or less) likely to draw upon this voting cue than voluntary voters.
As part of a larger Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council funded research project, we will launch a similar study in Argentina in February 2018 to assess the robustness of our results as well as our null findings. Ultimately, I hope that my research helps inform debates on how to best eliminate barriers to informed political engagement. As a first step, I believe identifying both individual and institutional-level factors that influence how individuals form political preferences is key to identifying such barriers and the heterogeneous impact they can have on citizens and citizen engagement in political processes.