The Elasticity of Voter Turnout: Investing 85 Cents Per Voter to Increase Voter Turnout by 4 Percent

Mark Schelker (University of Fribourg)
Marco Schneiter (University of Fribourg)

Abstract: In the aftermath of elections or ballots, the legitimacy of the result is regularly debated if voter turnout was considered to be low. Hence, discussions about legal reforms to increase turnout are common in most democracies. We analyze the impact of a very small change in voting costs on voter turnout. Some municipalities in the Swiss Canton of Bern reduced voting costs by paying the postage of the return envelope (CHF 0.85). Paying the postage is associated with a statistically significant 1.8 percentage point increase in voter turnout. Overall, this amounts to 4 percent more voters participating in the ballots. Moreover, we estimate the influence of this increase in turnout on party support in popular ballots. We find that social democrats and environmentalists see their relative support decline.