Research Question / Thesis
Voter turnout amongst democracies has become a very important topic to debate because “unequal turnout spells unequal political influence” (Rosenstone, 1982). Low voter turnout has become an important topic, especially during elections and a number of explanations have been offered in order to touch on the root of this problem. The factor that I will be focusing on is a state's electoral system. For the purpose of this paper I am focusing on the question; does a state's electoral system have an impact on voter turnout. As I have previously mentioned, there are many factors that one may attribute to voter participation and I will demonstrate using the most similar method that yes electoral systems do have an impact on voter turnout. The two countries that I have chosen to compare are Sweden; that uses list proportional representation (PR), and Canada; that uses first past the post (FPTP). I have chosen these two countries due to their vast similarities while remaining different in terms of electoral system.
The importance of an engaged voter population can be seen simply by looking at the vast number of studies and theories that have been released on the topic. I would like to touch on some of these topics in relation to the two countries that I have chosen. There is no doubt that education is an extremely important aspect in one's involvement in politics. It is argued that "the more schooling the individual has the more likely he [or she] is to register and vote in presidential elections."(Lijphart, 1997) However; this cannot explain the 20% difference in voter turnout between Sweden and Canada as they are both very similar in education. Both have a literacy rate of 99% and in terms of expected school life, Sweden is 11 years and Canada is 12.(International Human Development Indicators, 2012) Another aspect to consider is mandatory voting. It is agreed upon that countries with mandatory voting laws put into place have relatively high turnout rates. The comparison has been made between Canada and Australia and how “Canada lacks mandatory voting laws [...] holding Canadian turnout well below the observed rates in Australia” (Jackman, 1987). Another aspect that one must consider is a population's wealth. One study claimed “when a person suffers economic adversity his scarce resources are spent holding body and soul together, not remote concerns like politics. This cannot explain the discrepancy in my comparison as both Sweden and Canada have very similar average annual personal incomes with Sweden at $35,835 and Canada at $35,166(International Human Development Indicators, 2012). Another factor that has been argued to effect voter turnout is life expectancy. It has been argued that life expectancy can affect voter behaviour on an individual level (Strate, 1989). Again this cannot explain the discrepancy between Canada and Sweden as they both have a life expectancy of 81 years. Along the same lines as life expectancy is a state’s socio-economic status. Strate argues that socio-economic status like life expectancy affects a person’s faith in government on an individual level effecting voter behaviour (Strate, 1989). This also cannot explain the differences between Canada and Sweden as both rank amongst the top 10 on the Human Development Index.
Case Study #1: Sweden
Sweden is ranked as one of the highest states in the world in terms of voter turnout with “85% of registered voters and 83% of the eligible population” (International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2012) voting in the last election. One would expect to find these sorts of numbers appearing in an election where participation is compulsory, but Sweden consistently maintains over 80% participation in elections while still remaining completely voluntary. One must first consider the Swedish electoral system that is in use. Sweden uses a list...