Do institutions really influence political participation? Contextual influences on turnout and participation in the world’s democracies

Paul Whiteley

University of Essex

Marianne Stewart

University of Texas at Dallas

David Sanders

University of Essex

Harold Clarke

University of Texas at Dallas

Introduction

There has been a good deal of research into the determinants of electoral turnout in a variety of different countries and this has identified a number of important factors that explain why people vote in aggregate models. Several of these analyses have emphasised the importance of institutions, such as the electoral system, the size of electoral district and the federal structure of the state for explaining turnout (Owen & Grofman 1984; Jackman 1987; Jackman & Miller 1995; Gray & Caul 2000; Farrell 2001; Mueller 2003). Institutional variables are not the whole story, however, since the characteristic of specific elections, such as the closeness of the contest and the mobilising activities of parties, appear to play an important role (Cox & Munger 1989; Matsusaka & Palda 1993; Seyd & Whiteley 1992; Gray & Caul 2000).