UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Essays on political participation and the quality of democracy Held, Alexander


In advanced industrial democracies, a substantial number of citizens feel alienated from mainstream politics and political elites. This dissertation analyzes factors that help mitigate two crucial aspects of citizen political alienation in these countries: political disengagement by an increasing segment of the electorate, especially poor and young voters; and the turn to radical alternatives such as far-right populist politicians and parties. Study 1 assesses the effect of procedural information costs - in particular, uncertainty about whether one has to be 18 by the registration deadline or by Election Day - on youth voter turnout across U.S. states. Using a regression discontinuity design with official state voter records and leveraging a discontinuity in voter turnout around the registration deadline, this study shows that uncertainty about the registration requirements for first-time voters depresses voter turnout both in the immediate, and also in subsequent, elections among this group of voters, turning many of them into habitual non-voters. Study 2 takes a new look at the relationship between levels of political participation and support for left-wing parties and policies. It reanalyzes a critical case - Australia in the early 20th century - frequently cited as a strong demonstration of such a relationship. Based on an original and more fine-grained dataset of district electoral data in combination with a difference-in-differences design, this study tests the robustness of the previously found relationship and investigates its mechanisms. Study 3 uses survey experimentation to test the responsiveness of populist voters to mainstream political messages. Based on a large-scale survey experiment with the polling firm YouGov shortly before the 2017 German federal election, it finds that emphasizing the good performance of the German economy was the most effective strategy to increase support for the incumbent Christian Democrats among likely rightwing populist voters. Overall, these findings speak to ongoing debates about the ability of politicians to shape citizens’ political behavior. Improving on previous quantitative research in this area, this research highlights the limitations of institutional fixes and provides new insights into the role of procedural information and political framing for civic engagement.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International