Movers, Stayers, and Registration: Why Age is Correlated with Registration in the U.S.

Sep 22 '11

Stephen Ansolabehere, Eitan Hersh, and Kenneth Shepsle write:

Age is among the strongest predictors of political participation, yet it is also among the least well understood. We offer a model of participation in the U.S. voter registration system – the first step in the voting process. In this model, older people are more apt to participate than younger people, but not because of their age nor because of the civic resources, social capital, or political interest that accumulate with age. A strong relationship between age and participation takes form simply as a byproduct of the rules of the registration system, namely that participation is voluntary and that it is residentially based. A new, national random sample of 1.8 million voter registration records is employed to test the model. The model provides a theoretical foundation for the relationship between age and participation, identifies the functional form of that relationship, and solves a puzzle about the nature of participatory bias.

This seems good to me. Here are the comments I gave them:

I have no specific comments on the model or data analysis–it looks clear and convincing to me. It would be my preference to express Table 1 as a graph, also I’d show your y-axes in graphs as percentages (e.g., 50% rather than 0.5). Also, do you want to refer to Ebonya Washington’s paper on age and voter participation? That’s not directly relevant to your paper but it is related, in that she considers differential turnout rates by 2-year age cohorts. You have a bigger data set, of course!

Finally, I have a couple of substantive questions/comments.

1. You focus on registration, which makes sense. But many registered voters do not actually vote. Perhaps you discussed this in the paper and I missed it. If you don’t discuss this, it would help if you did. Ultimately people care about turnout, not just registration, right? There are also other forms of political participation (e.g., giving $) that don’t require registration.

2. Your general theme–that voter turnout in the U.S. is depressed because of state-level regisration requirements–was already familar to me. Is there a reference to this idea? Or perhaps it’s just familiar because Shigeo Hirano told me about it, and maybe Shigeo got it from an earlier version of this paper, I don’t know.