Principled abstention : a theory of emotions and nonvoting in U.S. presidential elections

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2012-08

Authors

Vandenbroek, Lance Matthew

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Abstract

More than a half-century of behavioral political science has shaped the dominant view of American nonvoters in terms of their engagement and resource deficits. While nonvoters on average are indeed less educated, poorer, younger and less politically engaged, other scholarship suggests that many of them actively abstain due to disaffection with the political system. My dissertation aims to reconcile these disparate explanations for nonvoting, and to better understand those nonvoters whose resources and political attention should suffice to vote. Drawing upon recent work in psychology, I advance a theory that disgust with politics causes many to abstain, irrespective of resources. These disgusted individuals feel the political system has violated deeply held interpersonal and moral norms, and believe participation will be ineffective to mitigate its affronts. As a result, these individuals withdraw from politics both in terms of voting and gathering additional information. I label this behavior “principled abstention.” To test my hypotheses, I employ observational data, including original question batteries on the 2008 and 2010 Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, and a series of laboratory and nationally representative experiments.

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