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When Are Parties More Likely to Try to Mobilize Poor Voters?

- March 22, 2011

This is the question posed by “Professor Karen Long-Jusko”:http://www.stanford.edu/~kljusko/research.htm of Stanford University in “an interesting new paper”:http://www.stanford.edu/~kljusko/Jusko_Strategic_Mobilization.pdf. Her answer: when electoral rules are such that the “electoral power” of the poor is higher. She defines electoral power as the number of seats that would be won by a party that was supported by all of the poor people (and no one else) in a country, which is in turn a function of electoral rules and in almost all cases (save proportional representation with a single national district) the geographic distribution of the poor. Here’s the paper’s abstract:

bq. How do electoral rules affect the poor? When do parties have an incentive to stand as the party of low-income citizens? When will parties mobilize the electoral support of low-income voters? This discussion presents evidence that rates of turnout among low-income citizens reflect legislators’ and parties’ electoral incentives to be responsive to the poor, and that these electoral incentives are determined by electoral geography – the joint geographic distribution of legislative seats and low-income voters across electoral districts. Further, this discussion demonstrates that under SMD electoral rules, low-income voters are more likely to vote in those electoral districts in which they are likely to be pivotal. By presenting a strategic mobilization account of voter turnout, this discussion breaks with current accounts of voter turnout that emphasize facilitative and motivational individual- and system-level factors. Instead, this discussion argues that low-income voters’ turnout decisions, in fact, reflect parties’ electoral incentives to cultivate and mobilize a low-income constituency.

Long-Jukso presented the paper here at NYU today, and three big issues that came up were (i) how do you define the poor (she uses the bottom third of the population)?; (ii) how do you define when the poor are likely to win a single member district (she use at least 35% of the population as a cut-off)? and (iii) to what extent are the correct answers to the first two questions likely to vary cross-nationally? People were also interested in the mechanisms that might lead poor voters to vote with greater frequency in districts where there are more poor voters, and more specifically whether this was likely to be a party-level or voter-level effect. Regardless of the mechanism, the finding is sure to be of interest to many.

The “full paper is available here”:http://www.stanford.edu/~kljusko/Jusko_Strategic_Mobilization.pdf.