Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Civic norms, social sanctions and voting turnout

Knack, Stephen (1992): Civic norms, social sanctions and voting turnout. Published in: Rationality and Society , Vol. 4, No. 2 (April 1992): pp. 133-156.


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This study views voter participation as a collective action problem overcome chiefly by means of "solidary" and "purposive" selective incentives. It is argued that these incentives are primarily in the form of civic or societal norms, rather than special interest norms associated with partisan or group loyalties. The emphasis on civic norms is supported by positive correlations between turnout and other socially cooperative behaviors such as responding to the census, participating in PTA's, and giving to charities. Data on interpersonal pressures to vote are found to support the hypothesis that "enforcement" of voting norms via social sanctions significantly enhances turnout. The American turnout decline is interpreted in terms of a weakening of social ties adversely affecting the socialization and enforcement of norms responsible for generating civic participation.

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