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Wolfinger and Rosenstone: Who votes

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American Politics

Wolfinger and Rosenstone. 1980. Who votes?. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Main Point

Although voters have different demographic characteristics than non-voters, they have similar public policy attitudes. The key demographic difference between voters and nonvoters is education, followed by age. Other variables have little influence. (Marriage, registration laws, race, income all matter, but not much). Significantly, however, voters and nonvoters seem to have similar policy attitudes and similar partisanship/ideology (though conservatives have a slight edge).

  • Education: The standard reasons (provides more information, ability to figure out how to register/vote, civic virtues)
  • Age: Life experience increases your information.
  • Registration laws: The change from most strict to most lenient adds 8-9% to registration (possible endogeneity?)
  • Marriage (slight effect)
  • Occupation (affects interests)
    • Government (especially appointed) jobs
    • Farmers: Farm subsidies are a huge incentive


  • Sample: Census data from 1972 and 1974 (80,000 respondents). (They had to sample the sample in order to get manageable chunks of data.)
  • Downside: There was no political data (other than voting) in the data, only demographic data.

Comments and Criticism

Like Verba and Nie (1972), this study was done before modern computing made it easy to run lots and lots of regressions with tons of controls. For this reason, I am willing to forgive both studies for not controlling for more than one variable in most regressions. I would have liked to have seen all the variables dumped into a single regression at some point, perhap with a few interactions (e.g. education*income), just to see how they all stand up against one another. Wolfinger and Rosenstone's most blatant error in this regard may have been their decision to conclude that blacks vote less than whites without doing the sort of analysis that Verba and Nie did 10 years earlier: controlling for income/education to see whether depressed black turnout was merely an artifact of their lower income and education levels.