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Report No. 255

Improvement in the quality of political participation and debate

9.12.7. As the above section shows, compulsory voting might not have an equivalent increase in voter turnout as much in India as other countries. More importantly however, even guaranteeing higher voter turnout does not guarantee greater voter participation, as understood in its true, substantive sense. Many studies have shown that the "second order" effects of compulsory voting, measured in terms of better civic engagement; increased political knowledge and interest; and improved quality of participation, do not follow the more-evident "first order" effects of greater turnout.397

397. Mcmillan, supra note 390

9.12.8. Thus, Engelen and Hooghe in their 2007 analysis of Belgian election data concluded that compulsory voting did not produce any "knowledge effects" amongst those who "voted to avoid sanction."398 Similarly, an experiment in the 2007 Quebec provincial elections, where compulsory voting was enforced through financial sanctions saw "little evidence of second order effects".399

The researchers concluded, "though a sufficient motivator for getting an uninformed voter to the polls, avoiding foregoing money cannot be assumed to be a sufficient motivator for getting him or her to learn more about politics".400 Such a conclusion is supported by a 2007 study of British and Australian voters, which found that Australian voters were not better informed than their British counterparts about their political system, despite being required by law to vote.401

398. Bart Engelen and Marc Hooghe, Compulsory Voting and its Effects on Political Participation, Interest, and Efficiency", Paper Presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions Workshop, Compulsory Voting: Principles and Practice, Helsinki (2007)

399. Peter John Loewen et al., Does Compulsory Voting Lead to More Informed and Engaged Citizens? An Experimental Test, 41(3) Canadian J. of Pol. Sc. 655, 656 (2008)

400. Ibid., at 666

401. Chris Ballinger, Compulsory Voting: Palliative Care for Democracy in the UK, Paper Presented at the ECPR Joint Sessions Workshop, COMPULSORY VOTING: PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE, Helsinki (2007)

9.12.9. Interestingly, although the Australian example is widely cited as a successful model of compulsory voting, it has witnessed a high level (to the tune of 1-3%) of "donkey voting", which occurs when apathetic voters simply choose the first name on a ballot.402

402. Amy King and Andrew Leigh, Are Ballot Order Effects Heterogeneous, 90(1) Social Science Quarterly 71, 73 (2009)

9.12.10. Thus, Kelley and McAllister in their 1984 study attributed the donkey effect to giving an advantage of 1.3 percentage points to Australian candidates with a surname in the first third of the alphabet; whereas, such effects were not visible in the British elections, where there was no compulsory voting.403 Concerns about donkey voting led to the introduction of random, instead of alphabetical, ballot ordering from 1984 in the Australian House of Representatives elections.

403. Jonathan Kelley, and Ian McAllister. 1984. "Ballot Paper Cues and the Vote in Australia and Britain: Alphabetic Voting, Sex and Title, 48(2) Public Opinion Quarterly 452

9.12.11. To conclude, there is no evidence that individuals will seek out more information in a bid to fulfil their voting obligations; and compulsory voting will not necessarily improve the quality of civic engagement.

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