Socioeconomic differences in electoral participation: Insights from the Finnish administrative registers

Tutkimustuotos: OpinnäyteVäitöskirjaArtikkelikokoelma


Those with advantaged socioeconomic positions – that is, individuals with high educational qualifications, professional or managerial occupations and a high level of income – are the most likely to vote in elections. Finland provides researchers with the rare privilege of studying individual-level determinants of voter turnout in an exceptionally reliable manner by utilizing register-based data. This dissertation includes four studies on socioeconomic differences in voter turnout, primarily from the 1999, 2012 and 2015 elections, conducted by exploiting this great resource.

Despite socioeconomic differences in voter turnout being a classical topic in electoral studies, recent decades have seen frequent claims of the political decline, or even death, of social class. This dissertation joins the studies demonstrating that this is not the case regarding electoral participation. On the contrary, a polarization of socioeconomic differences in turnout has occurred during the last few decades. Moreover, linking survey data to registers revealed that, due to social desirability bias and the self-selection of survey respondents, true socioeconomic differences are even larger than those suggested by survey estimates. These results imply that socioeconomic inequality in electoral participation is a more pressing social problem than conventionally acknowledged, even among experts on the subject.

The empirical analyses also assess some of the mechanisms contributing to the socioeconomic gap in turnout. Income explained a substantial part of the occupational social-class differences in electoral participation whereas the health differences contributed only weakly to this gap. However, among those with most serious health problems, no social class gradient in turnout was observed. The role of intergenerational transmission was of particular importance in explaining electoral participation. Among the observed parental factors, parental education social class and income were together roughly as important as parental voting in a single election in explaining this intergenerational association. Mother’s and father’s contributions were roughly equal, mother’s factors perhaps slightly more pronounced. Furthermore, in addition to studying the factors that create differences, it is also important to identify the factors that suppress them. Social mobility during an individual’s life-course was identified as one mechanism that constrains turnout inequality between socioeconomic groups.

The dissertation concludes by discussing the implications of the results at a more theoretical level through four themes. The first theme is the importance of accurate descriptive research, which is necessary and also often sufficient to answer many important questions regarding the topic. The second is the significance socioeconomic position as a conceptual tool. It is a multi-dimensional construct, but at the same time constitutes a coherent unit that is a central component in the social structure of modern societies. The third is the continued relevance of occupational social class, which should be maintained (or re-adopted) in basic analytical repertoire also when explaining electoral participation. The fourth theme is that voting in elections is simultaneously both a poignantly individualistic and social act. These properties, in addition to its concreteness, measurability, and practical social relevance, make electoral participation a particularly thrilling sociological topic.
Myöntävä instituutio
  • Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta
  • Martikainen, Pekka, Valvoja
  • Mattila, Mikko, Valvoja
  • Wass, Hanna , Valvoja
Myöntöpäivämäärä27 syysk. 2019
Painoksen ISBN978-951-51-3405-9
Sähköinen ISBN978-951-51-3406-6
TilaJulkaistu - 27 syysk. 2019
OKM-julkaisutyyppiG5 Tohtorinväitöskirja (artikkeli)


  • 5141 Sosiologia
  • 517 Valtio-oppi, hallintotiede

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