NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Employment, Wages, and Voter Turnout

Increases in wages and employment reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount.

A number of studies have shown that voters' participation in elections is proportional to the amount of exposure they have to campaign advertising, media coverage, and other forms of election information. In Employment, Wages, and Voter Turnout (NBER Working Paper No. 17270), Kerwin Kofi Charles and Melvin Stephens, Jr. demonstrate that following political campaigns is largely a leisure-time activity. As a result, the amount of time that citizens devote to work may well affect the degree to which they participate in elections. Using data from the American National Election Study (ANES), Charles and Stephens confirm that increases in employment lead to less use of the media and to reduced political knowledge.

The researchers analyze the relationship between county-level wages, employment, and voter turnout. They focus on state gubernatorial and presidential elections, for which voters in all counties in a state can participate, but which likely receive vastly different amounts of media attention. Charles and Stephens find that increases in wages and employment reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount. However, they have no effect on presidential turnout, although they raise the share of persons voting in a presidential election who do not vote in the House of Representative election on the same ballot - an indication of lack of information about that electoral contest. The authors argue that these patterns can be fully explained by access to campaign information, rather than by such factors as citizens' motivations to vote in good versus bad times, changes in the opportunity cost of voting, or transitory migration.

--Matt Nesvisky

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