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Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588


The dog that didn’t bark: Would increased electoral turnout

make a difference?
Per Arnt Pettersen a, Lawrence E. Rose b,
Department of Social Science, Bodø University College, N-8049 Bodø, Norway
Department of Political Science, University of Oslo, P.O. 1097 Blindern, N-0317 Oslo, Norway


The question of whether increased electoral turnout would make a difference has long been a matter of interest to psephologists
and laymen alike. Several approaches to this question have been employed, one of which has been an analysis of responses to survey
questions about how non-voters would have voted had they actually voted. The problem with this approach is not only that it
involves responses to a hypothetical question, but also that the responses are given after the election outcome is known and hence
are subject to the impact of various post-election effects e ‘‘bandwagon effects’’ in particular. In the present article an alternative
approach based on an analysis of party sympathy scores is pursued. Party sympathy scores are calculated among voters and non-
voters alike. On the basis of this information, an algorithm is then used to estimate what percentage of potential voters were ‘‘lost’’
by the failure of different parties to mobilize non-voters with sympathy scores comparable to their voters, and thereby assess the
impact of non-voting on the election outcome. Analyses are carried out using data from six national parliamentary elections held in
Norway in the period from 1981 to 2001. Results indicate that the impact of higher levels of turnout is marginal at best.
Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Keywords: Turnout; Abstention; Voting

‘‘It is one of those cases where the art of the reasoner 1. Introduction
should be used rather for the sifting of details than for
the acquiring of fresh evidence. . The difficulty is to Asking if increased turnout would make a difference
detach the framework of fact e of absolute, undeni- is, as Lutz and Marsh note (2007), a counterfactual and
able fact e from the embellishments of theorists and purely hypothetical question, yet this has not deterred
reporters. Then, having established ourselves upon scholars, political pundits and laymen alike from posing
this sound basis, it is our duty to see what inferences the question. The reason for such fascination with the
may be drawn, and which are the special points upon counterfactual is quite evident: the question has impor-
which the whole mystery turns.’’ tant normative as well as practical implications (see, for
Sherlock Holmes to Watson in example, Bennett and Resnick, 1990; Crew et al., 1977;
‘‘The Adventure of the Silver Blaze’’ Grofman et al., 1999; Lijphart, 1997; McAllister and
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Mughan, 1986; Petrocik, 1987; Piven and Cloward,
1988). In joining the discussion, we pursue a strategy
 Corresponding author. Tel.: þ47 2285 5175; fax: þ47 2285 4411. which falls into the second of two general approaches
E-mail address: l.e.rose@stv.uio.no (L.E. Rose). identified by Lutz and Marsh (2007) for estimating

0261-3794/$ - see front matter Ó 2006 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 575

turnout effects e namely a variety of approaches that e First, a question about how a person would have
simulate individual level candidate or party choice on voted obviously has to be asked after the election,
the basis of information obtained from cross-section as well as after a question about if the respondent
sample survey data. Our strategy, however, represents had actually taken part in the election. Presuming
a new twist based on use of an alternative estimation that respondents know the election result, this
procedure. approach opens for obvious ‘‘bandwagon’’ effects
In the following we briefly review several of the prin- of support for the winner among those who really
cipal methods that have been used previously to assess did not care much about the election and hence
the possible consequences of increased electoral turn- did not vote. Typically the conclusion would then
out. This review serves as a backdrop for presenting be that nothing would have changed. If anything,
our alternative approach. Results from analyses of six the margin of victory would only have been
different parliamentary elections held in Norway greater for the winner(s).
between 1981 and 2001 are then presented, after which e Second, it is difficult to assess the probability of
the article concludes with a brief summary discussion.1 which individuals among the non-voters would
actually vote, and who would instead be likely to
stay at home under any circumstances. The prob-
2. Traditional approaches to the potential impact
lem, in other words, is to identify those individuals
of higher voter turnout
among the non-voters who with a reasonable cer-
tainty may be considered genuine hypothetical
A classical approach to the issue at hand has been to
voters as opposed to die hard ‘‘stay-at-homers’’.
ask those persons who admit to not having taken part in
an election a follow up question about what party they e Third, according to the tenets of cross-pressure
theory, some individuals are abstainers precisely be-
would have voted for had they voted. This was the
cause they cannot make up their mind about what
approach employed by Campbell and his associates in
party to choose. But in a survey setting they are in-
some of the earliest electoral studies in the U.S. (Camp-
vited to solve the uncertainties that were unsolvable
bell et al., 1960, 110e111). Adding these hypothetical
at the time of the actual election. Aside from the eth-
votes to the real votes then permits an assessment of
ical problems that arise in connection with asking
whether the election outcome would have changed e
people to make such a choice, the reliability of the
e.g. resulted in the election of a different president or
government, allowed some parties to pass the minimum answers is likely to be low since the cross-pressure
has not vanished, and the pick of party may therefore
threshold for representation, or altered the majority of
be as unreliable as a toss of the coin.
representatives in parliament, congress or local govern-
ment assemblies. What seems to be a fairly straightfor-
Another approach to the question of what impact
ward approach, however, has several serious hitches:
increased voter turnout might have had is found where
panel data are available. In these instances one can
arrive at an estimate by assuming that voters who be-
came non-voters at the subsequent election would
National parliamentary elections are held every 4 years in Nor- have voted for the same party as they did in the previous
way and are based on a modified Sainte-Laguë system of propor- election if they had voted. Adding these hypothetical
tional representation for allocating seats. Only one ballot is cast
(for a party list) and votes are tallied within 19 electoral districts
votes to the real votes again offers an indication of
in which the number of representatives to be elected varies according whether the election outcome would have changed.
to population size. In addition to the seats specifically assigned to This is an approach employed, for example, by Butler
each electoral district, there are a number of adjustment seats, which and Stokes in their study of political changes in Britain
are allocated on a national basis in a manner so as to minimize dis- (Butler and Stokes, 1971, 339). While this approach
crepancies from a strict principle of proportional representation.
Norwegian electoral law diverges from the one-man, one-vote
avoids the pitfalls of ex post facto bandwagon effects,
principle such that there are far more voters behind every representa- there is still a problem of making an assessment of
tive from the larger electoral districts than is the case in the smaller which (or how many) non-voters are genuinely poten-
ones. But what is most important is that only when the last seat from tial party supporters as opposed to people who would
an electoral district is won by a small margin is it likely that the seat be likely to stay at home in any event.
could (hypothetically) be lost if an alternative distribution of the vote
showed either a drop in the proportion of votes for the party having
Among other much used approaches, one has been to
won the last seat or a growth in support for the party competing most investigate which parties have the largest proportion of
closely for the last seat from that district. identifiers among the non-voters. Here the presumption
576 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

is that it is these parties that would have the most to gain Notice the assumption, which we have emphasized
from increased voter mobilization (cf. Abramson et al., that the non-voters would have to behave identically
1982, 90; Flanigan and Zingale, 1994, 44). Another with those having similar sympathies who actually did
approach is to investigate the socio-demographic com- vote, and that the probability of voting is identical for
position of non-voters under an assumption that it is sympathizers of the two parties. However, no effort is
those of low socio-economic status who participate made to validate this assumption.
least and that such individuals exhibit a tendency to
vote more for non-conservative parties. In this case
3. An alternative approach to the potential
the analytical question is what would have happened
impact of higher voter turnout
if low socio-economic individuals had participated at
the same level as those with high socio-economic status
An alternative, albeit a bit more indirect, approach to
(cf. Citrin et al., 2003; Bjørklund, 2001, 81; Lijphart,
the hypothetical impact of increased turnout among non-
1997, 2e5; Piven and Cloward, 1988, 21e25; Wolf-
voters is one akin to that followed by Flanigan and Zin-
inger and Rosenstone, 1980, 80e88). Finally, a slightly
gale, but with an attempt to provide more precise, better
different approach is one focusing on the policy
grounded estimates of the likelihood of voting among
preferences of voters and non-voters, respectively.
non-voters e i.e. estimates based on a more differenti-
The critical question in this approach is whether the
ated assessment of the mobilization potential found
preferences of non-voters are sufficiently different
among the group(s) of non-voters. The basic idea is to in-
from those of the voters that policy outcomes would
vestigate the proportion of supporters for different
change had the preferences of non-voters been heard
parties among the non-voters e that is, to establish an es-
(Shaffer, 1982; Highton and Wolfinger, 2001).
timation of the number (or volume) of immobilized po-
One of the most systematic sets of inquiries regard-
tential voters for different parties. With this information,
ing the hypothetical impact of increased participation
if one could with some certainty estimate a reasonable
of non-voters, however, is that carried out by Paul
probability of actual participation among these sup-
Abramson and his associates. At every presidential
porters, it would then be possible to calculate the extra
election in the USA since 1980 they have estimated
votes that were lost due to the lack of voter mobilization
the effect of increased participation among non-voters.
of the respective parties, and in this fashion assess the po-
Their approach is based on a comparison of the fre-
tential impact of higher turnout.
quency of voting between identifiers of the Republican
Our approach follows this logic, but does so by
and Democratic parties. The conclusion drawn is that
focusing on partisan sympathy thermometers com-
most of the time increased turnout would not change
monly used in electoral surveys rather than party
anything. But in the close election of 2000 they find
identification. The advantage with this approach is
that strong identifiers with the Democrats and indepen-
that the question of sympathy is asked independent of
dents leaning towards the Democrats tended to stay at
any questions about voting and the answer is given
home more frequently than strong identifiers with the
without any reference to participation in the election.
Republicans and independents leaning towards the
Equally if not more important, whereas an individual
Republicans (Abramson et al., 2002, 92). The conclu-
is generally able to choose only one party at an election,
sion in this instance was that:
individuals (both voters and non-voters) can theoreti-
‘‘If strong Democrats had been as likely to vote as cally have positive sympathy (or antipathy) with respect
strong Republicans, and if independents who leaned to more than one party. Under these conditions band-
Democratic had been as likely to vote as indepen- wagon effects are minimized if not completely elimi-
dents who leaned Republican, and if Democrats in nated. The crucial question under these circumstances
these two groups had been as likely to vote for is at what point sympathy is likely to be transformed
Gore as strong Democrats and independents who into actual voting for a party. Presumably the more sym-
leaned democratic and did vote, Gore’s overall pathy an individual expresses regarding a party, the
share of the vote would have increased by 1.8 per- higher the probability of voting for that party. Hence,
centage points. Depending upon in which states the critical analytical challenge is to find the level of
these increased votes were cast, even this small in- sympathy that transforms sympathy into voting with
crease could have provided Gore with an electoral a certain degree of probability.
vote majority’’. One way of meeting this challenge is by studying the
(Abramson et al., 2002, 93 emphasis added) sympathy level of actual voters for various parties found
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 577

through various election surveys and then to use this possible using the probability estimates calculated
information to calculate more realistic estimates of in step two above to calculate how many non-
the consequences of a higher level of mobilization voters have a reasonable chance of actually voting
among non-voters. This approach has the advantage for the party in question had they in fact cast a bal-
of providing contextually sensitive, party specific esti- lot. These potential voters may be termed a party’s
mates about the mobilization potential for each party ‘‘add-on’’ vote.
and the probable impact on the electoral outcome in (4) Since no party can receive less than the actual
the event sympathizers among the non-voters had dis- votes cast on election day, using these estimates
played the same propensity to vote for a specific party means that every party will increase its electoral
as had sympathizers among those who did vote. support, even if by only a small fraction. But just
With this starting point, the approach we adopt can adding to the real percentage of votes could lead
be described in four steps. to a total support for all parties of more than 100
percent of the electorate. Thus, when assessing
(1) The first step involves inspecting the sympathy the impact of these add-on votes for each party
scores recoded in national surveys for those who on the overall distribution of partisan support, it
actually voted for different parties in order to is most appropriate to add the number of new votes
assess if there is any (common) pattern of sympa- coming from non-voters to the actual votes cast
thy that seems to suggest a high likelihood of trans- for every party as found in official election statis-
forming sympathy into actual votes. For tics and then recalculate the hypothetical outcome
Norwegian voters and parties an intriguing picture for purposes of comparison with the actual
emerges, in that a 70 degree positive sympathy outcome.
score seems to be a significant threshold with
respect to transforming sympathy into actual vot- These steps can be elaborated and illustrated as
ing. Over time results indicate that about 90 per- follows.
cent of those who actually vote for each and
every party express a positive sympathy of 70 de- 3.1. What level of sympathy is needed to turn
grees or more. sympathy into voting?
(2) However, many respondents (both voters and non-
voters) have positive sympathy ratings of 70 In exploring the potential impact of increased turn-
degrees or more for more than one party, and out among non-voters, the first question that needs to
the probability of choosing a specific party among be answered is what level of sympathy is found among
those with 70 degrees or more for purposes of those who actually voted for each party. This knowledge
casting a ballot is unknown. Yet this can be esti- is necessary if we are to argue that a certain amount of
mated in several ways e for example by probit sympathy for a party is needed if a given voter (and by
regression, using sympathy scores to predict the same logic any non-voter) should be inclined to vote
actual voting for the party in question (or even for a specific party. Obtaining this knowledge is a purely
inspecting percent tables since this is a bivariate descriptive task, but it helps produce knowledge about
analysis). It should be emphasized that this prob- sympathy among actual voters which can be used to
ability of voting for a party may well vary from identify those non-voters who would be likely to vote
one party to another, and from one election to for a specific party had they voted.
another. Wording of the sympathy thermometer items used in
(3) The third step is crucial in as much as it is assumed the national election surveys carried out in Norway
that the probability of transforming a given level of from 1981 to 2001 has varied slightly, but the essence
sympathy into a vote for a specific party is the of the question is nonetheless comparable across all
same among non-voters as it is among actual years (see Appendix 1). The response scales used allow
voters.2 So if a certain proportion of individuals sympathy scores ranging from 0 to 100 to be estab-
among the non-voters has a positive sympathy of lished, where 0 represents a strong negative orientation,
say 70 degrees or more for a specific party, it is and 100 represents a strong positive orientation to the
party in question.
As can be seen in Fig. 1, which is based on responses
This is the same assumption as that employed by Abramson and from the 1981 election survey, the likelihood of voting
his colleagues as emphasized in the quotation cited above. for a party is highly contingent upon the degree of
578 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

100 dominant actors along a lefteright dimension found

Socialist Left in the Norwegian political battlefield. Despite inter-
party differences, the principal message of Fig. 1 (and
similar figures which could be presented for all other
Percent voting for a party

Christian People's
Centre elections from 1985 to 2001) is that a positive sympathy
60 Progress
score of 70 represents something of a general turning
point or threshold with respect to the likelihood of vot-
ing for a party.
40 It should be emphasized that a sympathy score of 70
or more is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition
for a person to vote for a party, not the least because it is
possible for individuals to have a sympathy score of this
magnitude for more than one party. The critical point
0 for the present analyses, however, is that there is
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
a very high likelihood (which can be estimated) that
Sympathy score
persons who vote for a party will express a sympathy
Fig. 1. Percentage of the electorate voting for specific parties depen- score of 70 or more. Thus, looking across all of the
dent on different sympathy scores for the party in question. 1981 seven major parties and all of the elections in the
survey results. 1981e2001 period, almost nine out of every ten indi-
viduals (89.3 percent) expressed a sympathy score of
70 or above for the party for which they voted. Variation
sympathy an individual holds for a specific party.3 in this percentage, moreover, is limited. As results in
Rarely if ever are people with a negative orientation Table 1 demonstrate, in only five instances does this
to a party likely to vote for that party.4 Only when percentage drop below 85 (the minimum being 83 per-
one has a more positive orientation does voting for cent for the Progress Party in 1989) and in only two
a party become more likely, and this likelihood in- instances does this exceed 95 percent (the maximum be-
creases sharply once a certain sympathy threshold is ing 96.2 percent for the Socialist Left Party in 1985). As
passed. As Fig. 1 indicates, this threshold (as well as is furthermore evident from the bottom row of Table 1,
the likelihood of voting for a given party at a specific the Socialist Left has had the highest average percent-
level of sympathy) varies a bit from one party to an- age of voters expressing a sympathy score of 70 or
other, but as a general tendency the likelihood of voting above across all six elections (92.9 percent), whereas
for a party only begins to increase significantly once the old Agrarian Party, which is now named the Centre
a sympathy score of 70 has been registered. The only Party, has the lowest average percentage (86.9).
exceptions of any note relate to the Labour and Conser-
vative parties, where a 60-degree sympathy score ap- 3.2. What proportion of non-voters sympathize with
pears to be sufficient to increase the likelihood of various parties?
actually voting for these parties. That it should be pre-
cisely these two parties which deviate from the main Using a sympathy score of 70 as a reference point,
tendency is not surprising, however, since these are Table 1 may be recast in order to show what proportion
the two parties which for many decades have been the of non-voters express a sympathy score of 70 degree or
more for each of these seven major parties. The answer
A multiparty system has existed in Norway since the early part of to this question is displayed in Table 2. One may first of
the 20th century (cf. Rokkan, 1966, 1967; Valen and Rokkan, 1974). all notice the sum of sympathies as displayed in the right-
Although many parties compete currently, in recent decades only hand most column of the table. The fact that sympathy
seven parties have been successful in obtaining parliamentary repre-
sentation on a regular basis (cf. Arter, 1999, 114; Heidar, 2004, 45).
scores sum to more than 100 for all years serves to under-
The number of supporters of other parties found in the national elec- line the fact that non-voters, just as is the case for voters,
tion surveys, moreover, is so few as to make it difficult to establish tend to express sympathy for more than one party. This is
reliable parameter estimates for these parties. Analyses carried out a consideration that may reflect cross-pressure which in
in this article are therefore limited to the seven parties displayed in some instances may produce non-voters.
Fig. 1.
That there are exceptions, however, is not totally unreasonable,
Consider next the average proportion of sympathizers
since there can be various reasons for such behavior e tactical voting for each party among non-voters, which is found in the
being one of them. bottom row of the table. Results here show that the
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 579

Table 1
Percentage of voters for different parties expressing sympathy scores of 70 or more, 1981e2001
Year Party
Socialist Left Labour Liberal Christian People’s Centre Conservative Progress
1981 (N¼) 91.8 (61) 92.7 (491) 93.1 (58) 95.5 (111) 83.9 (93) 94.5 (416) 86.0 (57)
1985 (N¼) 96.2 (104) 92.5 (679) 89.7 (68) 94.3 (174) 88.0 (125) 94.3 (545) 86.2 (65)
1989 (N¼) 92.8 (222) 86.7 (608) 88.3 (77) 85.7 (161) 84.4 (109) 85.7 (399) 83.0 (206)
1993 (N¼) 94.0 (134) 87.4 (668) 85.5 (62) 92.7 (123) 86.5 (311) 85.9 (276) 91.4 (81)
1997 (N¼) 92.4 (118) 88.7 (608) 86.9 (84) 89.8 (264) 90.2 (133) 88.0 (267) 84.4 (192)
2001 (N¼) 90.2 (235) 83.9 (354) 84.3 (70) 91.6 (215) 88.2 (93) 89.0 (428) 94.1 (169)
Average 92.2 88.7 88.0 91.6 86.9 89.6 87.5

Labour Party is the clear winner e or perhaps one should they to be capable of exploiting these swings in sympa-
more correctly say the loser! For all of the elections cov- thy among non-voters. But it is necessary to exercise
ered, an average of about 43 percent of non-voters ex- caution in drawing such conclusions. The amount or
press a sympathy of 70 degrees of more for the Labour level of sympathy expressed among non-voters is not
Party. This percentage reaches a zenith in 1993 when enough information to say anything about the propor-
just over 50 percent of the non-voters expressed a sympa- tion of non-voters with a sympathy of 70 degree or
thy of 70 degrees or more, after which the percentage has more that might reasonably be expected to go to the
declined, reaching a low of roughly 30 percent in 2001. polls and cast a ballot with minimal urging, thereby
The second highest average is registered for the Conser- being in a position to add their votes to the actual num-
vative Party, which has an average of just over 30 percent ber of voters for each party. The reason is that both
of strong sympathizers among the non-voters. For all of voters and non-voters tend to have sympathy for more
the remaining parties the average percentage of non- than one party. It is therefore necessary to calculate
voters expressing a sympathy of 70 degrees or more is the probability that a sympathy score of 70 degrees or
substantially lower e a little over 20 percent for the So- more really generates a vote for each party. Such a prob-
cialist Left and Progress parties, roughly 17 percent for ability coefficient may well vary e both for each party
the Christian People’s Party and Centre Party, and just and between elections. To estimate this probability one
under 10 percent for the Liberal Party. But the respective may employ probit regression analysis with respect to
percentages displayed in Table 2 vary much more from the likelihood of voting for a specific party as this is
one election to another than was the case for voters contingent upon the degree of sympathy an individual
displayed in Table 1. has for the same party. Results from such regression
analyses are displayed in Table 3.
3.3. What probability of voting for various parties While the proportion of voters for each party with at
does sympathy produce? sympathy level of 70 degrees or more varied little
between parties, there are major differences between
These results suggest that partisan sympathies may parties regarding the probability that a sympathy of 70
be much more subject to temporally related factors degrees or more will lead to a vote for the different
among non-voters than is the case for voters, and that parties, as the coefficients found in Table 3 readily dem-
certain parties stand to gain more than others were onstrate. On average the largest parties e the Labour

Table 2
Percentage of non-voters with a sympathy score of 70 or more for different parties, 1981e2001
Year Party Sum
Socialist Left Labour Liberal Christian People’s Centre Conservative Progress
1981 (N¼) 9.7 (186) 47.3 (188) 10.8 (186) 13.9 (187) 14.9 (188) 39.4 (188) 19.7 (188) 155.7
1985 (N¼) 16.4 (238) 45.6 (237) 7.6 (238) 14.5 (241) 16.4 (238) 40.5 (237) 13.1 (237) 154.1
1989 (N¼) 31.9 (229) 37.6 (234) 7.9 (228) 13.9 (231) 16.0 (231) 29.9 (234) 28.2 (234) 165.4
1993 (N¼) 22.6 (350) 50.6 (352) 8.5 (342) 9.5 (347) 27.1 (347) 20.8 (351) 13.1 (352) 150.2
1997 (N¼) 16.7 (264) 45.3 (278) 12.4 (259) 28.5 (277) 14.8 (270) 18.1 (272) 24.6 (281) 160.4
2001 (N¼) 33.1 (335) 30.4 (336) 10.2 (333) 22.9 (336) 11.2 (331) 33.2 (337) 27.9 (337) 168.9
Average 21.7 42.8 9.6 17.2 16.7 30.3 21.1
580 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

Table 3
Probit regression of voting for a specific party by sympathy score for the same partya
Year Party
Socialist Left Labour Liberal Christian People’s Centre Conservative Progress
1981 0.258 (11.53) 0.606 (23.12) 0.238 (10.84) 0.362 (13.69) 0.212 (11.91) 0.521 (20.08) 0.166 (10.09)
1985 0.204 (11.44) 0.630 (27.69) 0.234 (12.73) 0.352 (16.87) 0.225 (14.14) 0.557 (24.58) 0.235 (12.87)
1989 0.266 (15.40) 0.565 (29.45) 0.241 (13.27) 0.309 (16.80) 0.259 (14.69) 0.500 (23.57) 0.380 (19.03)
1993 0.229 (13.59) 0.460 (22.11) 0.159 (11.20) 0.292 (15.19) 0.368 (19.74) 0.444 (21.68) 0.296 (14.17)
1997 0.269 (14.32) 0.513 (23.63) 0.164 (11.51) 0.286 (16.33) 0.364 (16.95) 0.455 (21.32) 0.384 (18.87)
2001 0.312 (17.0) 0.466 (22.0) 0.230 (12.8) 0.322 (17.0) 0.349 (15.5) 0.476 (22.4) 0.357 (16.6)
Average 0.256 0.540 0.211 0.321 0.292 0.492 0.303
Probability increases for the entire electorate (Z-values in parentheses).
Minimum N ¼ 1527, maximum N ¼ 2126.

Party and the Conservatives e have an advantage in this number of actual non-voters that it is possible to assume
respect. Thus, over the period from 1981 to 2001 the av- has a sympathy of 70 degrees or more for a given party
erage probability of voting for the Labour Party if a per- is calculated. This is done by using the proportion of
son first expresses a sympathy score for the party of 70 non-voters in the survey data found to have a sympathy
degrees or more was 0.54 (see the last row in Table 3). of 70 degrees or more (from Table 2) and multiplying
The probability was highest in 1985 (0.63) and lowest in this by the total number of non-voters in the electorate
1993 (0.46). For the Conservative Party the comparable known from official electoral statistics. This pool of
average was 0.49, with the highest probability being in sympathetic non-voters is then multiplied by the proba-
1985 (nearly 0.56) and the lowest in 1993 (0.44). bility of voting for the party given a sympathy of 70
The contrast between these two parties and the Lib- degrees or more as this was estimated using survey
eral Party is striking. Hence, although people may data (from Table 3). Doing so yields a number of non-
sympathize with the Liberal Party, on the average the voters which can be added to those who actually voted
probability that these ‘‘good feelings’’ for the party for the respective party. Once this is done for all parties
would translate into votes is only a little over 0.20. In it is then possible to calculate a new (hypothetical) dis-
1993 the probability coefficient is as low as 0.159. tribution of votes for purposes of comparison with the
The Socialist Left Party is in a situation rather similar actual electoral outcome.5
to that of the Liberals, with an average probability of This procedure has been employed for all seven parties
no more than roughly 0.25. For the other parties e for all six election years. Before turning to the results,
The Christian People’s Party, the Centre Party and the however, it is appropriate to highlight our expectations
Progress Party e the average probability is around about the hypothetical impact of higher levels of turnout.
0.30. What is noteworthy with these parties is that all Within an electoral system such as that found in Nor-
have been subject to significant electoral ups and downs way, in which individuals may like and have sympathy
in the course of recent years. for more than one party (as well as dislike one or more
parties) but are only able to vote for one, each and every
party would presumably experience a positive impact of
3.4. Would higher electoral turnout have made increased voting by non-voters expressing sympathy of
a difference? 70 degrees or more for at least one party. The impact on
the overall electoral outcome, however, is more difficult
Against this background, the question of importance to predict. At least three competing hypotheses may be
is whether these swings in probabilities and/or the formulated regarding the consequences of such in-
higher, more stable probabilities for the Labour and creased support:
Conservative parties provide the basis for arguing that
a higher level of voter turnout would have had an impact  One possibility is that the largest parties will be those
on the electoral outcome. To answer this question it is which benefit most from the mobilization of sympa-
necessary to estimate what each party would probably thizers among non-voters. This expectation is pred-
gain should turnout indeed have been higher, and then icated on the idea that non-voters, much as voters,
compare the new distribution of the vote with the orig-
inal distribution. To estimate this ‘‘electoral add on’’ for 5
A more detailed example of this procedure based on data for 1981
each party the following procedure is used. First, the is found in Appendix 2.
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 581

are inclined to favor parties having the best prospects parties, and the Christian People’s Party experienced their
for being election ‘‘winners’’. But large party sym- best election ever. Finally, the 2001 election was charac-
pathizers may take the election result as a given terized by catastrophic results for the Labour Party, at
and hence discount the impact of their own vote on least in light of their previous postwar electoral record.
the outcome. If so, then it should be the larger parties There is, in other words, substantial variation in the elec-
that have an extra non-mobilized potential among toral outcomes over the 20 year time span covered by the
non-voters. investigation, something which increases the robustness
 An alternative and contrary hypothesis is that of the analysis. With this in mind we can turn to these elec-
smaller parties would benefit most from a higher tions and look at the potential impact of increased
rate of mobilization among non-voting sympa- mobilization of non-voters using the model of estimation
thizers. This expectation is based on the idea that outlined above in each case.
some voters abstain, even if they like a party
a lot, because there is little chance for the party e 4.1. 1981: Victory for the Conservatives
especially small parties e to achieve a significant
position in government. For these people the usual The first election under study is that of 1981, the best
choice is either to vote for another party or to abstain. postwar election ever for the Conservative Party, which
But were they in fact to vote for the party of their first achieved support of over 30 percent of the voting
choice, this would benefit the smaller parties. electorate. For the Labour Party, however, even if the
 Finally, a third hypothesis is that the parties farther election was considered a defeat, the party still received
out on the extremes of the lefteright axis stand to close to 40 percent of the vote while no other party
benefit most from increased mobilization of sympa- achieved support above 10 percent. Three questions
thizers. Here the underlying logic is that these peo- therefore seem obvious in connection with this election.
ple, perhaps even more so than supporters of small (1) Had the Conservative Party fully mobilized and uti-
parties, do not find it likely that their preferred party lized its potential of sympathy in realizing the upsurge
will end up in a position to be a major shaper of pub- of Conservative support? (2) Did the Labour Party have
lic policy and therefore again either chose neighbor- an unused reservoir of sympathetic non-voters, which
ing parties or abstain. But were they to be mobilized made them the genuine election loser compared to ear-
on the basis of their first preferences, the parties far- lier electoral results? and (3) Did the smaller parties
ther out on the wings would stand to gain the most. stay small merely because they were not able to mobi-
lize latent sympathy?
4. Results Using sympathy scores and turnout probability
estimates calculated according to the algorithm out-
To investigate these alternatives it would ideally be lined above, the results are displayed in Table 4.6
preferable to have a random sample of elections in order This table suggests that three parties e the Socialist
to eliminate or control for the effects of special circum- Left Party, the Christian People’s Party and the
stances surrounding any given election. But relevant Conservative Party e would have suffered a relative
data are only available from the six parliamentary elec- loss if non-voters had in fact participated at a higher
tions held in the period from 1981 to 2001. Fortunately, rate. The Conservatives, in short, seemed to have
however, these elections have properties which make exploited every bit (and indeed even a little more) of
them very suitable for our investigation, since the out- the potential support available among its sympathizers.
comes vary in an interesting way. 1981 is the election By comparison only one party e the Labour Party e
when the Conservative Party achieved its greatest success would have enjoyed a gain worth mentioning had their
in the postwar period. This was followed by 1985 when sympathizers turned out in greater numbers in 1981,
the Labour Party regained some of the support lost in
1981. Then in the 1989 election both of the largest parties 6
In Table 4 and subsequent tables for the parliamentary elections
e the Labour Party and the Conservative Party e lost in the period from 1985 to 2001, the results are at the aggregate
quite substantially. After this the 1993 election was char- national level. In reality voting and allocation of parliamentary
acterized by the conflict over Norwegian membership in mandates occurs in sub-national electoral districts according to a sys-
the EU, and votes for the opposition parties e especially tem of proportional representation. It is possible to argue that to be
most robust, our analyses should be carried out at the district level
the Centre Party e increased dramatically. In 1997 the and then aggregated, but to do so in a reliable fashion would require
Progress Party obtained greater support than the Conser- much larger sample sizes for the national surveys which we used in
vative Party and became the largest of all non-socialist some of our estimation procedures.
582 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

Table 4 Table 5
Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote
based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express
a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (1981 election)a a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (1985 election)a
Party Actual Hypothetical Difference Party Actual Hypothetical Difference
distribution distribution between distribution distribution between
of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical
electoral ‘add on’ and actual electoral ‘add on’ and actual
based on distributions based on distributions
non-voters (%) non-voters (%)
Socialist Left 5.3 5.1 0.2 Socialist Left 5.5 5.5 0.0
Labour 39.1 39.7 0.6 Labour 41.5 41.5 0.0
Liberal 3.4 3.5 0.1 Liberal 3.2 3.1 0.1
Christian People’s 9.4 9.2 0.2 Christian People’s 8.4 8.3 0.1
Centre 4.5 4.5 0.0 Centre 6.7 6.6 0.1
Conservative 33.5 33.2 0.3 Conservative 30.9 31.2 0.3
Progress 4.8 4.8 0.0 Progress 3.8 3.9 0.1
Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 1.4 Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 0.7
a a
Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral
districts. districts.

the gain being 0.6 percent according to the estimation parties have electoral support that exceeds 10 percent of
procedure used here. But even if that gain is worth no- the electorate. But in this case the Conservative Party
ticing, it is unlikely that it would have made any dif- has lost a little compared to 1981 (declining to about 30
ference for the election outcome. Only if the 0.6 percent) whereas the Labour Party has gained a little (to
percent had been concentrated in election districts about 40 percent). For all of the other parties e left, right
which were very close and a Labour candidate was or centrist e electoral support is below 10 percent. At this
next in line for allocation of a seat in parliament might election, therefore, the basic question is: Has there been
they have gained extra parliamentary mandates. any changes since the previous election regarding the im-
Notice also that the total impact of the new distribu- pact of greater hypothetical participation among non-
tion of votes had all non-voters of a certain level of par- voters? The answer, provided by results displayed in
tisan sympathy been mobilized to the same degree as all Table 5, is that the total impact e which was rather small
other eligible voters is only an absolute change of 1.4 in 1981 e is even less in this instance. Across all parties,
percent. This is the sum of the absolute differences be- the sum of all (absolute) changes is no more than 0.7 per-
tween the actual and estimated vote distributions, either centage points. This figure indicates that mobilizing non-
positive or negative, as found in the lower right-hand voters would have had virtually no impact on the election
cell of the table.7 If the entire difference had been re- outcome whatsoever.8
lated to only one party, it might have made a difference, The only thing worth commenting upon in this case is
but it would probably not have changed the election that the small gains that might have been registered are
result in any major way. on the right side of the political spectrum, and would
especially have implied a gain for the Conservative Party
4.2. 1985: The Labour Party strikes back as well as a 0.1 percent gain for the Progress Party. By
contrast, all three of the centrist parties would presum-
The 1985 election outcome was similar to that of 1981 ably have suffered a relative loss of 0.1 percent in sup-
in several ways. Again only the Conservative and Labour port, while on the left side of the political spectrum
increased mobilization of non-voters would have made
no difference.
In another context Pedersen (1979) has suggested two alternative
indices to measure electoral volatility which are similar to this ab-
solute sum, the only difference between them being that for one of
the indices Pedersen suggests dividing the sum of absolute differ-
ences by 2 in order to normalize the range of the measure. The Again a caveat is in order due to the aggregated nature of our es-
only difference, in short, is the range selected for the subsequent in- timates. Theoretically higher mobilization, were it to be concentrated
dex, the numerical value of the index being interpreted accordingly. in a given electoral district, could have had an impact on the distri-
For the present purpose, there is little reason to divide the absolute bution of mandates in that electoral district, but the likelihood for
sum by 2. this to have occurred is minimal.
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 583

4.3. 1989: Both Labour and the Conservatives lose Table 6

Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote
based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express
The 1989 election, by comparison, produced some a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (1989 election)a
major changes in the distribution of electoral support.
Party Actual Hypothetical Difference
The Conservative surge from the early 1980s had distribution distribution between
passed and support declined to what had been the par- of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical
ty’s postwar normal e roughly 20 percent. This electoral ‘add on’ and actual
decline, however, did not favour the Labour Party, based on distributions
which also lost ground in 1989 and ended up at a level non-voters (%)
of support that became the standard for the 1990s e Socialist Left 10.3 10.6 0.3
namely at about 35 percent. Winners of the election Labour 35.0 34.7 0.3
Liberal 3.3 3.2 0.1
were rather parties on the wings of both sides of the Christian People’s 8.7 8.4 0.3
lefteright political continuum. On the left the Socialist Centre 6.6 6.6 0.0
Left Party broke through the 10 percent level, and on Conservative 22.7 22.7 0.0
the right the Progress Party fared even better, achieving Progress 13.3 13.7 0.4
support from over 13 percent of the electorate. Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 1.4
As is apparent from Table 6, increased mobilization a
Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral
would in this case only have provided a further boost districts.
to the election winners on each side of the political
spectrum. Yet the boost would again have been relatively support and suddenly became a prominent non-socialist
modest (an increase of 0.3 and 0.4 percent, respectively). party. On the left side of the political spectrum the
The losers would have been the Labour Party (0.3 per- Labour Party also enjoyed increased support, primarily
cent) and the Christian People’s Party (0.3 percent). At at the expense of both the Conservatives and the Prog-
this level, it is unlikely that either winners or losers ress Party. The Socialist Left Party, on the other hand,
would have gained or lost any extra seats. was surprisingly unable to benefit from its opposition
to EU membership and actually lost a couple of percent-
4.4. 1993: The EU and the Centre Party age points compared to the election in 1989.
Would increased mobilization of non-voters with
The 1993 parliamentary election was highly focused sufficiently high levels of partisan sympathy have
on the issue of Norwegian membership in the EU, changed the election result under these conditions e
which was to be decided upon by a national referendum i.e. an election dominated by one-issue with clear win-
the following year. The most strident opponents to ners and losers? The answer is no. As the results
membership were the Centre Party and the Socialist presented in Table 7 reveal, the aggregate differences
Left Party, whereas the most enthusiastic proponents
of membership were the Conservatives and the Labour Table 7
Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote
Party.9 In the election, a year prior to the referendum, based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express
the Progress Party and the Conservatives were the pri- a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (1993 election)a
mary losers, the Progress Party losing half of the voters Party Actual Hypothetical Difference
it had attracted in 1989.10 The undisputed winner of the distribution distribution between
election, on the other hand, was the Centre Party, which of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical
enjoyed an increase of about 10 percent in electoral electoral ‘add on’ and actual
based on distributions
non-voters (%)
The referendum ultimately led to a narrow defeat of the member- Socialist Left 8.2 8.4 0.2
ship proposal. For more detailed discussion of the political situation Labour 38.3 38.9 0.6
and factors relating to the referendum outcome in Norway, see Pet- Liberal 3.8 3.5 0.3
tersen et al. (1996). Christian People’s 8.2 7.7 0.5
The chairman of the Progress Party later expressed regret and Centre 17.4 17.5 0.1
considered the party’s position on the EU-issue in 1993 to be one Conservative 17.7 17.5 0.2
of the biggest mistakes the party had ever made. Indeed, in subse- Progress 6.5 6.6 0.1
quent years the party has declined to take a stand on the EU-issue,
Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 2.0
leaving it up to the individual leader and voter if they wanted to sup-
port membership or not, since the issue will ultimately be decided by Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral
a national referendum. districts.
584 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

are larger than at the previous election (2.0 compared to change is only about one percentage point, and this change
1.4), but still remarkably small considering individual is so evenly distributed that it is highly unlikely that any-
parties. The Centre Party appears to have won about thing could have happened regarding the allocation of
as much as it possibly could based on its anti-EU mem- seats. Together the two socialist parties could have gained
bership stance. Increased mobilization of sympathizers about one-half a percent, while the hypothetical ‘‘biggest’’
for the Conservative and Progress parties would also losers e the Liberals and Conservatives e would have only
have had marginal effects. Only the Labour Party seems dropped in support by 0.2 percent each.
to have been in a position to have benefited significantly
from a potential increase in mobilization of sympa- 4.6. 2001: Disaster for the Labour Party
thizers. The Christian People’s Party, by comparison,
would have lost support by about the same amount The 2001 election was a disaster for the Labour Party.
had all sympathizers actually voted. Again the distribu- During the period of postwar social-democratic hegemony
tion of parliamentary seats would have changed only e from 1945 to 1969 e the Labour Party alone carried well
under very specific circumstances. above 40 percent of the electorate. From the election of
1973 onward, however, this support dropped below the
4.5. 1997: The Progress Party becomes the second 40 percent level (the only exception being in 1985), and
largest party then seemed to stabilize at a little above 35 percent. But
this changed dramatically at the election in 2001, when
With one noteworthy exception the 1997 election out- support for the party plunged by another 10 percent, to
come was basically ‘‘back to normal’’. The exception roughly 25 percent. In contrast to this fiasco for the Labour
was that the Progress Party rebounded from its 1993 set- Party, four parties were seen as winners of the election: the
back and became the largest of the non-socialist parties. Socialist Left Party accomplished its best election ever, the
The other election winner was the Christian People’s Conservatives regained its position as the leading party
Party, for which support also increased substantially among the non-socialists, while the Christian People’s
(to nearly 15 percent), while support for the Centre Party, and Progress parties consolidated their positions.11 Also
with the ‘‘threat’’ of EU membership put aside by the noteworthy was the fact that aggregate electoral turnout de-
outcome of the 1994 referendum, dropped back to clined to just above 75 percent.12
‘‘normal’’ e a little less than 10 percent of the electorate. What would have happened had sympathetic non-
Both of the major socialist parties, Labour and Socialist voters been mobilized to a greater degree in this
Left, also lost support compared to 1993. instance? Only in 1993 would the mobilization of sym-
With respect to the potential effects of increased mobi- pathetic non-voters have had the same degree of impact
lization among sympathetic non-voters in this case, there is as in 2001. The combined effect continues to be rather
nothing of great note (see Table 8). The total absolute limited all the same e a total change of only two per-
centage points in absolute terms. But at least this time
Table 8 there is a certain pattern related to the hypothetical mo-
Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote
based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express
bilization of non-voters. The winners would have done
a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (1997 election)a better and the big loser would have done even worse
Party Actual Hypothetical Difference
(see Table 9). The Socialist Left Party could have
distribution distribution between gained another half percent, and so could the Conserva-
of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical tives, while the Labour Party e even at an election with
electoral ‘add on’ and actual at 10 percent drop in support e could have lost even
based on distributions more (0.6 percent) if sympathetic non-voters of all
non-voters (%)
parties had been mobilized. In other words, compared
Socialist Left 6.2 6.4 0.2 to other parties the Labour Party did not have any extra
Labour 36.2 36.5 0.3
Liberal 4.6 4.4 0.2
Christian People’s 14.1 14.1 0.0 In addition to the Labour Party, the other losers were the Liberal
Centre 8.2 8.3 0.1 Party, for which support declined to within a fraction of depriving the
Conservative 14.8 14.6 0.2 party of its parliamentary seats, and the Centre Party, which only two
Progress 15.8 15.8 0.0 elections before had been dominant among the non-socialists (cf.
Aardal 2003).
Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 1.0 12
Prior to 1993, electoral turnout had been close to or above 80 per-
Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral cent for virtually all of the postwar period. Turnout dipped to roughly
districts. 76 percent in 1993, but had increased again to over 78 percent in 1997.
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 585

Table 9 systems of proportional representation such as that

Difference between actual and hypothetical distribution of the vote found in Norway are presumably less sensitive to an im-
based on an estimated electoral ‘add on’ from non-voters who express
a positive sympathy score of at least 70 for the party (2001 election)a
pact of increased voter mobilization. Even so, we had
expected that our estimated model could potentially
Party Actual Hypothetical Difference
distribution distribution between
have generated three alternative results:
of vote (%) of vote with hypothetical
electoral ‘add on’ and actual e First, that the largest parties would benefit most
based on distributions from higher mobilization of sympathizers since
non-voters (%) there is reason to believe that non-voters e just
Socialist Left 13.3 13.8 0.5 as voters e tend to sympathize more with larger,
Labour 25.7 25.1 0.6 frequently winning parties.
Liberal 4.1 4.0 0.1
Christian People’s 13.1 12.8 0.3
e Alternatively, it is possible that the smaller parties
Centre 5.9 5.9 0.0 would profit most since small parties normally
Conservative 22.4 22.9 0.5 have little chance of being represented in govern-
Progress 15.5 15.5 0.0 ment. Precisely, for this reason sympathizers of
Absolute sum 100.0 100.0 2.0 these parties may to a greater extent either vote for
Support is calculated only for the parties with lists in all electoral other parties or abstain e a response that would im-
districts. ply noteworthy effects of higher electoral turnout.
e Third, similar reasoning relates to the parties located
on the wings of the lefteright political spectrum.
sympathy among non-voters that could have come to This is because to date these parties have never
their rescue. Calculations suggest a similarly pessimis- been invited to participate in government coalitions
tic situation for the Liberals and the Centre Party since in Norway, and voting for these parties could there-
there is no additional gain to be realized by higher levels fore be considered a waste of ones vote, again lead-
of mobilization among those who preferred to stay at ing to abstention. But should they nonetheless be
home on election day in 2001. mobilized, an impact would be registered.

5. Concluding discussion None of these expectations is supported by our re-

sults. The principal conclusion is rather that the impact
To sum up, the objective of the analyses presented here of increased mobilization of sympathetic non-voters
has been to consider the impact of increased turnout on the would have very marginal effects on the distribution
partisan distribution of the vote using a model for estimat- of electoral support insofar as the assumptions of our
ing the support each party would receive under hypothet- model are valid. Neither large parties, smaller parties
ical circumstances in which parties were able to mobilize or parties on the left and right wings of the political
sympathizers among the ranks of the non-voters. In esti- spectrum would have benefited markedly had there
mating this model we use expressions of party sympathy been a higher level of turnout in any of the six elections
that are independent of actual voting behavior. The analyzed here. The same goes for winners and losers at
main theoretical assumption is that the relationship be- the actual elections. Notions that some party leaders
tween expressed sympathy with a party (70 degrees or may harbor in thinking that their party enjoys more
more on the sympathy thermometer in this instance) and sympathy among non-voters than is true for other
the probability that this sympathy may be transformed parties, and thereby has an immobilized electoral poten-
into a vote for the party in question is the same for non- tial that might be exploited to their benefit, in other
voters, were they in fact to vote, as it is for actual voters. words, seems to be unwarranted.
Our expectation was that results predicted by such At this point a word of caution against an uncondi-
a model would be different from those predicted by tional interpretation of these findings is in order. The
most other approaches used to assess the impact of in- analyses reported here relate to the partisan distribution
creased turnout, where the conclusion is generally that of vote at the national level, whereas actual results and
nothing would have changed, except perhaps for the the allocation of parliamentary seats occur at the district
very close presidential election in the United States in (county) level. Under very special circumstances in
2000. Obviously in a two-party system, where the win- which non-voting sympathizers were geographically
ner takes all, every close election could be changed had concentrated and could be mobilized in specific election
extra votes been mobilized for the losing party. But districts and/or where a party lacked only a fraction of
586 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

a percentage more support in order to win a seat, changes enough to increase their percentages of the vote if other
in representation for one party or another could take parties were to be equally successful in mobilizing their
place. Analyses more sensitive to such conditions are ob- share of sympathetic non-voters.14
viously to be desired, but are not feasible using the model The robustness of the findings reported here may
suggested here since there are too few party sympa- of course be challenged on the grounds that the model
thizers for some of the smaller parties in the national sur- used for estimating the impact of increased turnout is
vey to calculate reliable estimates at the district level. quite simple e indeed perhaps too simple. It is based
Another reason for caution is the assumption that solely on party sympathy scores among voters and
non-voters would behave in much the same fashion as non-voters, respectively and an assumption of compa-
voters were they in fact to rise from the sofa and go to rable voting tendencies within these two groups. But
the polling booth. This may be a problematic assump- efforts to explore the implications of using a more
tion, but it is similar to that adopted by Abramson and complex and presumably more sophisticated model
his associates in their work on the United States. It is of estimation bring us up against constraints imposed
an assumption, moreover, which in the procedure by the realities of Norwegian election results and lim-
employed here has an advantage in that it allows for itations of the empirical materials available. As
variations in behavioral tendencies (probabilities) from already noted, voting turnout in Norway has histori-
one election to another and from one party to another. cally been quite high. This means that the group of
The estimation procedure, in short, does not presume non-voters is relatively small e more so in national
universal behavioral patterns, but is rather more sensitive election surveys than in the total electorate, even
to possibilities of differentiated behavioral tendencies. when reported voting behavior is validated against of-
Even taking these caveats into mind, the robustness of ficial election lists. The alternatives we have pursued
the findings reported here appears to be substantial. Among (which are not reported in detail here) nonetheless
other things, sensitivity to the level of sympathy which has serve to underscore the robustness of the findings,
been used as a threshold for various calculations has been at least for the Norwegian case. Hence, rather than at-
controlled for by replacing the sympathy level of 70 de- tempting to fine tune the model further at this point,
grees or more with both 60 degrees and 80 degrees and the most fruitful avenue for research would seem to
then repeating the analyses. In the first instance the propor- be an investigation of a comparable model using
tion of sympathizers increases but the probability of voting data collected in other political systems. In the
decreases. In the second instance the proportion of sympa- interim the preliminary conclusion seems to be clear:
thizers decreases while the probability of voting for a spe- the notion that increased turnout among non-voters
cific party increases. In both cases not much changes, and would lead to alternative electoral outcomes is a vari-
neither level of sympathy creates major shifts in support for ant on the theme of the dog that did not bark.
any given party. The reason for this stability may be that po-
litical systems with turnout levels as high as those found in Acknowledgements
Norway e ranging from a high of 84.0 percent in 1985 to
a low of 75.5 percent in 2001 among the six elections ana- Earlier versions of this manuscript were presented at
lyzed e give little ‘‘room’’ for an impact of changes unless a workshop on ‘‘Low turnout e does it matter?’’ at the
they occur in the highly unlike situation where all ‘‘sur- Joint Session of Workshops arranged by the European
plus’’ sympathy is large and goes to one or a very few Consortium for Political Research in Uppsala, Sweden,
(and rather small) parties.13 In our data, however, the larg- 13e18 April 2004, and at a panel arranged in connec-
est parties also have the largest amount of sympathy, but not tion with the Annual Meeting of the American Political
Science Association in Chicago, USA, 2e5 September
2004. The authors appreciate comments received from
Although not a matter of primary concern in the work reported here, participants in both of these settings as well as those
the hypothetical increase in turnout under the assumptions employed
would vary between approximately 10 and 15 percent. Given our ap-
received from two reviewers. Responsibility for the
proach and the estimation model involved, however, it is not possible final content nonetheless remains ours alone.
to give precise estimates of what the turnout would be. This is due to
the fact that the national surveys do not include enough individuals
with preferences for the smaller parties (which generally do not obtain It is important to emphasize that the assumption relating to suc-
sufficient support to gain a seat in parliament) to provide reliable esti- cess in mobilization of non-voters is not based on identical probabil-
mates for a potential ‘‘add on’’ for each party. Any estimate of an in- ities of voting across all parties but rather merely an ability to attract
crease in turnout had all voters with a 70-degree sympathy score sympathizers among non-voters at the same level as parties have at-
actually voted is therefore a very rough estimate at best. tracted sympathizers among actual voters.
P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588 587

Appendix 1. Questions concerning party sympathy a scale which goes from 0 to 100, which we call
used in the Norwegian national election surveys, a ‘‘sympathy thermometer’’. (SHOW CARD 12
IN 1981)’’
1981: Post-election personal interview, question 67
Question wording: ‘‘We would like to know how you 1993: Post-election personal interview, question 58
like various [political] parties. (SHOW CARD 13 Question wording: ‘‘(AS IN 1989)’’.
MARKED THERMOMETER). On this card you
see a scale which we call a ‘‘sympathy thermometer’’. 1997: Post-election personal interview, question 24
At the 50 degree mark you place parties which you Question wording: ‘‘I would like to know what you
neither like nor dislike. A party that you like is to think of different [political] parties. After I have
be placed between 50 and 100 degrees. The better read the name of a political party, would you please
you like a party, the higher the placement. If on the place it on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means that
other hand there is a party which you do not like, you strongly dislike the party and 10 means that you
this is to be placed between 0 and 50 degrees, with like the party very much. If I come to a party you do
0 as an indication of the least sympathy.’’ not know, or feel that you do not know well enough,
just say so. The first party is the Christian People’s
1985: Post-election personal interview, question 74 Party.’’
Question wording: ‘‘We would like to know how
you like various [political] parties. (SHOW CARD 2001: Post-election personal interview, question 61
5 MARKED THERMOMETER). On this card you Question wording: ‘‘I would like to know what you
see a scale which we call a ‘‘sympathy thermome- think of different [political] parties. After I have
ter’’. (CONTINUED AS IN 1981)’’ read the name of a political party, would you please
place it on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means that
1989: Post-election personal interview, question 55 you strongly dislike the party and 10 means that
Question wording: ‘‘We would like to know how you like the party very much. The first party is the
you like various [political] parties. We have made Christian People’s Party.’’

Appendix 2. Calculation of electoral ‘‘add on’’ for each party and a new (hypothetical) distribution of votes
based on mobilization of non-voters with a sympathy of 70 degrees or more for a given party. Example based
on data for the 1981 parliamentary election in Norway

Party Total Proportion Likelihood Electoral Number Percent Number of Percent Difference
number of of voting ‘‘add on’’ of votes distribution votes þ distribution between
of non- non-voters for for the party received of actual electoral of vote þ hypothetical
voters with a the party A  B C ¼ (D) in vote (F) ‘‘add on’’ electoral and actual
(A)a certain given a election E þ D ¼ (G) ‘‘add on’’ distributions
level of certain level (E)a (H) ¼ (H)  (F)
sympathy of
for the party sympathy
(B)b (C)b
Socialist 508 938 0.097 0.26 12 835 125 353 5.3 138 188 5.1 0.2
Labour 508 938 0.473 0.61 146 884 925 087 39.1 1 071 931 39.7 0.6
Liberal 508 938 0.108 0.24 13 192 80 222 3.4 93 414 3.5 0.1
Christian 508 938 0.139 0.36 25 467 222 313 9.4 247 780 9.2 0.2
Centre 508 938 0.149 0.21 15 925 105 921 4.5 121 846 4.5 0.0
Conserva- 508 938 0.394 0.52 104 271 792 573 33.5 896 844 33.2 0.3
Progress 508 938 0.197 0.17 17 044 113 135 4.8 130 179 4.8 0.0
Sum e e e 335 578 2 364 604 100.0 2 700 182 100.0
Based on official electoral statistics.
Estimation based on survey data.
588 P.A. Pettersen, L.E. Rose / Electoral Studies 26 (2007) 574e588

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