The duty to vote

From a purely utilitarian perspective, voting does not appear to be a ‘rational’ choice in a large electorate election if there is some opportunity cost in going to the polls, given the extremely low probability that one’s decision will be pivotal (Owen and Grofman 1984; Mueller 2003). Yet most people vote, which is known as the paradox of voting (Fiorina 1989; Grofman 1993). Why, then, do many people vote? One reason is that many persons feel that it is a citizen’s duty to vote in a democracy, they consider that this is the ‘right’, ‘ethical’ thing to do (Campbell et al.,1960, Riker and Ordeshook 1968, Verba et al. 1995, Blais 2000, Clarke et al. 2004, Blais and Achen 2012). Sense of civic duty even appears to be the most powerful predictor of voting (Blais 2000).
This moral basis for the act of voting is known in the literature as civic duty, the duty to vote or simply as “the D term”. In spite of its predictive power and popularity among political behaviour scholars, the
phenomenon remains fuzzy and unexplored. The danger exists that this attitudinal term becomes a hotchpotch for all the psychological determinants of voting outside the rational parameters. If we know
relatively little about the exact nature of civic duty, its causes are even more mysterious.
We intend to produce the first systematic study of the duty to vote. This is the logical follow-up to the book written by the principal co-investigator more than 10 years ago: To Vote or not to Vote?. This
capital work for the Political Behaviour studies (769 citations in Google Scholar) reached two main conclusions: first, the contribution of rational choice to our understanding of turnout is limited; second,
sense of civic duty is the most powerful motivation for voting. The next step is to examine in depth the sources of that belief, which is precisely what this project is about. We have identified eight research questions related to the duty to vote. We plan to write papers that
address these questions, present them at international conferences, publish some of them in top quality scientific journals, and finally produce a book manuscript. The eight research questions (RQ) are: (RQ1) How should duty be measured? (RQ2) How does it relate to other political attitudes? (RQ3) How widespread is it? (RQ4) Who feels that it is a duty to vote? (RQ5) Where does duty come from? (RQ6)
Does it vary over time? (RQ7) Does duty vary across countries and regions and, thus, according to contextual factors?(RQ8) How is duty enforced?
Since our goal is to understand why people do (or do not) construe voting as a duty, our main source of
data will consist of existing surveys. We will also make use of novel lab experiments to comprehend how the public norm that voting is a duty is enforced and new survey experiments to sort out to what
extent people feel a duty to vote as members of their society or as members of a democratic polity. We intend to collect and merge all the relevant surveys including questions about the duty to vote. A
preliminary search for surveys containing questions related to the moral obligation of voting yields no less than a hundred studies.
In short, we hope to make a substantial contribution to our understanding of the sources, both contextual and individual, of citizens’ view about whether voting is a duty or not

Faculty Supervisor:

Andre Blais


Ece Yegane








Current openings

Find the perfect opportunity to put your academic skills and knowledge into practice!

Find Projects