Driving Turnout: The Effect of Car Ownership on Electoral Participation

de Benedictis-Kessner, Justin and Maxwell Palmer. 2020. “Driving Turnout: The Effect of Car Ownership on Electoral Participation” Working Paper.

Abstract

Inequalities in voter participation between groups of the population pose a problem for democratic representation. We use administrative data on 6.7 million registered voters to show that a previously-ignored characteristic of voters — access to a personal automobile –– creates large disparities in in-person voting rates. Lack of access to a car depresses election day voter turnout by substantively large amounts across a variety of fixed-effects models that account for other environmental and voter characteristics. Car access creates the largest hindrance to voting for those people who live farther from the polls, for young voters, and for non-white voters. These effects do not appear for absentee voting, suggesting a simple policy solution to solve large disparities in political participation. This study contribute to the theoretic understanding of political participation as well as the impact of potential policy reforms to solve participatory gaps.

Participation rates by car ownership.

Participation rates by car ownership.