Meanings of voting: What we (don't) know about voting and why it matters

Meanings of voting: What we (don't) know about voting and why it matters

Intervenant : Cal Le Gall (University of Vienna),  avec Carolina Plescia, Ming M. Boyer, Maria B. Abdala et Anna Lia Brunetti.


For decades, an extensive literature has studied the determinants and the individual motivations of voting behaviour. In this framework, many authors have assumed that citizens possess meanings of voting using a deductive approach. Surprisingly, almost no study has empirically investigated the existence of such meanings in a direct and systematic fashion. This gap is problematic insofar as current models of electoral behaviour might very well be deducing consequences from assumptions that do not match citizens’ mindsets, while it might also overlook unexplored factors related to the decision to go out and vote or abstain. The aim of the ERC-funded DeVOTE project is to tackle these questions by further investigating what ‘voting’ means for ordinary citizens in a wide array of countries.  


In this presentation, we will first review the main conceptualizations of voting that decades of research have deductively derived, to check how much overlap exists with todays’ ordinary citizens’ meanings of voting. We do so by drawing on original data from a wide range of developed and developing electoral democracies across the world, including but not limited to the USA, Brazil, Hungary, Kenya, Australia, Sweden, Colombia and Italy (combined N > 15,000). As ‘voting’ is an abstract concept and difficult to define, to appreciate whether citizens hold or not a definition of voting and how complex it is, data collection relies on an open-ended inquiry where people are left free to define voting as extensively as they want. These answers are then systematically coded to include (or not) meanings of voting derived from the academic literature. Here, we will present the first results of our data collection in some of the countries under investigation.


In addition, we will also present results from both original interviews and focus groups carried out in 2021 in Austria, to study whether question ordering influences citizens’ meanings of voting. Our results indicate that the topics participants discuss before thinking about the meanings of voting has effects over the salience of specific meanings and, to a lesser extent, on the variety of meanings of voting, while our results also suggest that individuals appear to hold meanings of voting.



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