Location of Public Goods and the Calculus of Voting: The Seattle Monorail Referendum


  • *Direct correspondence to Barbara Sgouraki Kinsey, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida, 4000 Central Florida Blvd., PO Box 161356, Orlando, FL 32816-1356 〈bkinsey@mail.ucf.edu〉. The corresponding author will share all data and coding information with those wishing to replicate the study. The second and third authors are listed alphabetically. The authors are grateful to Cristina Bradatan, Scott McClurg, and the SSQ editor and anonymous reviewers for helpful comments and constructive feedback.


Objectives. In this article we explore how the geographic location of a proposed public good on the ballot in a local referendum influences voting turnout. We argue that voters who live farther away from the good, and are thus likely to bear the cost of the good but have no access to it, would be more motivated to turn out in the election. Drawing on the cost-orientation hypothesis, or negativity effect, “that people are more strongly motivated to avoid losses than to approach gains,” we expect these voters to derive higher expressive benefits from the act of voting relative to those of voters located closer to the good.

Methods. We examine voting turnout in the 2002 referendum in the City of Seattle on the proposed construction of a monorail. We conduct our study at the precinct level using spatial tools of analysis. We evaluate the effect of accessibility on turnout by means of a curvilinear model that incorporates demographic and political variables.

Results. We find that voting turnout is determined partly by accessibility. Turnout is higher in precincts located farther away from the monorail line than in precincts located relatively closer to the line. Partisanship conditions this effect.

Conclusions. This study provides tentative support for linking voter turnout to the negativity effect via expressive benefits. Voters' location in relation to a public good may affect directly their political behavior by means of their perceived net gains or losses from the good.