Voting over Redistribution and the Size of the Welfare State: The Role of Turnout

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Abstract

Theories of redistribution inspired by the Downsian model receive little support from empirical investigation. In this article I argue that one of the possible explanations is that the standard Downsian theory, and the empirical specifications derived from it, ignore electoral turnout. Empirical evidence consistently shows that higher-income citizens are more likely to vote; office-seeking candidates should therefore include this probability in their objective function. As a consequence, the pivotal voter is not the median in the income distribution, but is generally richer. Moreover, an increase in income inequality does not unambiguously increase the political demand for redistribution, as most literature takes for granted. Including turnout in the model restores the compatibility of the Downsian theory with current empirical evidence. A regression analysis on panel data for 41 countries in the period 1972–98 confirms the importance of turnout as an explanatory variable for social spending.

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