Do Interactions with Candidates Increase Voter Support and Participation? Experimental Evidence from Italy

by Vincent Pons

Overview — Elections in established democracies regularly attract less than half of the voting-age population. This low electoral participation raises concerns for the overall legitimacy and stability of the democratic regimes. This study of a mid-sized city in northern Italy during the 2014 municipal elections finds that while volunteers’ visits increased participation by a significant 1.8 percentage points, surprisingly the candidates’ own visits affected neither the average voter nor any subgroup of the population, whether defined by age, gender, place of birth, or turnout history.

Author Abstract

We test whether politicians can use direct contact to reconnect with citizens, increase turnout, and win votes. During the 2014 Italian municipal elections, we randomly assigned 26,000 voters to receive visits from city council candidates, from canvassers supporting the candidates' party list or to a control group. While canvassers' visits increased turnout by 1.8 percentage points, candidates had no impact on participation. Candidates increased their own vote share in the precincts they canvassed, but only at the expense of their running mates. This suggests that their failure to mobilize nonvoters resulted from focusing on securing the preferences of active voters.

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