For decades, the United States has had a significantly lower turnout than most other developed nations. Between 50 and 60 percent of Americans tend to appear in presidential elections, and voter turnout often drops below 40 percent in the middle votes. The last split times in 2014 were particularly low with a turnout of only 36.7 percent.
There are some signs that voter turnout will be higher this year, probably due to increasing polarization, which tends to mobilize voters.
However, it is still likely that non-voters will again outnumber voters.
In recent years, Belgium, Turkey and Australia have had turnout rates of more than 80 percent. And although voter turnout may be increased by weekend elections or by the automatic registration of voters, these three nations have something in common: they have electoral law.
While compulsory suffrage may be more symbolic in some countries, it is often taught in all these countries that higher voter turnout also has a broader stimulating effect on political participation.
Although there is no national law in Switzerland that forces citizens to vote, at least one region – or one canton – regularly demands votes from residents. Officials there say that the law has also led to a more diverse and active political debate.
"The advantage of compulsory voting is that citizens are gently pressured to become more involved in political issues," said Regional Representative Stefan Bilger to Swiss public television during the 2014 election. And that despite the fact that the procedure of the canton applies are relatively lax compared to those in other countries. If you are sick or out of town, you probably will not be fined
In Australia, you can be in court if you refuse to vote and refuse to pay a fine.
In some of these countries, choice is a strictly enforced task and not a right of historical origin. In Belgium and Australia, for example, demands were made by parties that were tired to be better-funded opponents who appeared to be more successful in mobilizing voters. Compulsory voting was a means to limit the influence of groups that may not represent the majority but are disproportionately well organized.
Similar arguments led to the introduction of voting laws in Latin America, where enforcement is very different today. Some states enforce the law by threatening officials with work prohibitions or bank customers with transaction restrictions. Elsewhere, there are penalties for non-participation only on paper.
Not everyone is sad about it. "Opponents of electoralism often demand that the country may feel better if non-electoral candidates are not pushed to participate in public affairs," University of Georgia researcher Shane P. Singh recently wrote Analysis.
At least in Europe, the introduction of more electoral law would probably bring more benefits to some political parties than others. When researchers from ETH Zurich examined the effects of compulsory voting in referendums at the federal level, they rightly expected a massive increase in participation – and thus more support for the policy supported by left-wing candidates.
"The increase in turnout has led to a 20% increase in electoral support for left-wing political positions, most likely by mobilizing citizens at the low end of income distribution," the researchers concluded on the basis of historical data. (Total turnout increased by 30 percent.)
"After compulsory voting has been abolished, voter turnout and associated forms are increasing [of] Political participation disappeared immediately, "they added.
Of course, the exact impact on the elections can vary from country to country, as right-wing candidates can support positions that are more likely to be linked to leftist candidates, for example. The broader statement by Swiss researchers that compulsory voting motivates voters who would otherwise not vote would be exciting and disturbing, depending on who you support.
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