Polls, the Press, and Political Participation: The Effects of Anticipated Election Closeness on Voter Turnout

Leonardo Bursztyn, Davide Cantoni, Patricia Funk, Noam Yuchtman

NBER Working Paper No. 23490
Issued in June 2017, Revised in July 2018
NBER Program(s):Political Economy

Models of voting, including the canonical rational voter model, predict that voters are more likely to turn out when they anticipate a closer election. Yet, evidence of a causal effect of anticipated election closeness on voter turnout is limited. We exploit naturally occurring variation in the existence, closeness, and dissemination of pre-election polls to identify a causal effect of anticipated election closeness on voter turnout in Swiss referenda. Closer elections are associated with greater turnout only when polls exist. Examining within-election variation in newspaper reporting on polls across cantons, we find that close polls increase turnout significantly more where newspapers report on them most. This holds examining only “incidental” exposure to coverage by periodicals whose largest audience is elsewhere. The introduction of polls had larger effects in politically unrepresentative municipalities, where locally available information differs most from national polls.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w23490

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