Isolating the Effects of Electoral Participation on Political Efficacy and Political Trust

By Victoria Shineman

There is a rich literature discussing the effects of participation, and a growing number of studies have tried to estimate proposed effects using empirical data. However, empirical testing is difficult because participation is typically both voluntary and costly, causing it to be partially determined by the characteristics it is theorized to affect. Put simply, there is an endogeneity problem. This paper discusses theories regarding how engaging in the act of participation might affect political efficacy and political trust, and then contributes to the empirical literature through experimental innovations which improve our ability to make valid causal inferences. An intensive mobilization treatment was integrated into a panel survey conducted before and after the 2011 San Francisco Municipal Election. Actual voter turnout was validated from the official voter history file. The mobilization treatment increased participation by over 33 percentage points, generating an excellent opportunity to isolate exogenously driven participation. The analysis uses assignment to the mobilization treatment as an instrument for voter turnout, in order to isolate and estimate the independent effect of being mobilized to vote on different dimensions of political efficacy and political trust. Heterogeneous treatment effects are also identified, based on whether each subject approved or disapproved of the electoral outcomes. This paper is part of a larger project intended to isolate and estimate the effects of participation. Additional experiments and observational studies will soon be integrated into the analysis.

Read the full paper here [PDF].

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