NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
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Voting for Democracy: Chile's Plebiscito and the Electoral Participation of a Generation

Ethan Kaplan, Fernando Saltiel, Sergio S. Urzúa

NBER Working Paper No. 26440
Issued in November 2019
NBER Program(s):Political Economy Program

This paper assesses if voting for democracy affects long-term electoral participation. We study the effects of participating in Chile's 1988 plebiscite, which determined whether democracy would be reinstated after a 15-year long military dictatorship. Taking advantage of individual-level voting data for upwards of 13 million Chileans, we implement an age-based RD design comparing long run registration and turnout rates across marginally eligible and ineligible individuals. We find that Plebiscite eligibility (participation) significantly increased electoral turnout three decades later, reaching 1.8 (3.3) percentage points in the 2017 Presidential election. These effects are robust to different specifications and distinctive to the 1988 referendum. We discuss potential mechanisms concluding that the scale of initial mobilization explains the estimated effects. We find that plebiscite eligibility induced a sizable share of less educated voters to register to vote compared to eligibles in other upstream elections. Since less educated voters tended to support Chile's governing left-wing coalition, we argue that the plebiscite contributed to the emergence of one party rule the twenty years following democratization.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w26440

 
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