Mind the (Participation) Gap: Vouchers, Voting, and Visibility


This study exploits the introduction of a new type of public financing of elections -- campaign finance vouchers -- to estimate the effects of neighborhood-level political cross pressure on citizens' decisions to participate in low-cost political activities which vary in their publicness: voting (private) and vouchering (public). For each registered voter in our sample, we measure the "participation gap" (voting minus vouchering) to assess whether local ideological outliers are less likely to use their vouchers, and, conditional on using their vouchers, more likely to distribute vouchers insincerely. We find that cross-pressured people are slightly more likely to use vouchers than matched control units who are ideologically typical of their precincts. We do find a slight effect of neighborhood cross-pressure on sincerity of voucher assignments, but, curiously, people who live in an ideologically congruent precinct do not shade their voucher donations toward candidates who are close the precinct mean. While our study is limited to a single municipal election in a relatively liberal city (Seattle), our methods can easily be extended to future elections, and our findings raise questions about the empirical assumptions that have shaped the development of campaign finance jurisprudence since 1976.


Election Law | Jurisprudence | Law | Law and Politics

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