Dr Meredith Rolfe, Oxford University Centre for Corporate Reputation, Saïd Business School
Abstract: This talk addresses the two core questions of voter turnout. Political scientists still have no good answer to the question of why rational, self-interested actors would ever vote in an election in which they were highly unlikely to influence the outcome. A more successful literature asks why some people (e.g., college-degree holders, regular church-goers and citizens in national as
opposed to local elections) vote more often than others. I argue that a new, carefully constructed answer to the first question leads to a dramatically revised response to the second. Combining insights from psychology, anthropology and sociology with non-linear dynamics, I treat political participation as a socially defined practice instead of an individual choice over personal payoffs.
Building from this alternative to the rational choice paradigm, the social theory of participation shows how potential voters who move in larger social circles, particularly those including politicians and other political actors, are most influenced by the flurry of electoral activity prodding citizens to vote and increasing political discussion.