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A comprehensive analysis of the contemporary effects of registration reforms on electoral participation and partisan advantage

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posted on 2023-08-04, 14:24 authored by James A. White

The political debate over the efficacy and desirability of registration reform has been largely disconnected from empirical evidence. This dissertation reviews historical data on electoral participation, registration laws, and electoral outcomes in order to appraise comprehensively the legitimacy of the hopes and fears of reform proponents and opponents. Building on previous efforts, this dissertation provides a more current and comprehensive analysis of the contemporary effects of National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) registration reforms. This dissertation finds that motor voter and other NVRA provisions have significant but modest effects on registration, turnout, partisan registration, and electoral outcomes. In general, interaction tests indicate that reforms disproportionately boost the participation of the single persons, young persons, and movers. Interestingly, they do not consistently appear to benefit two target groups: those with lower income and those with less education. Regarding the effect of reforms on the political composition of the pool of participants, the findings provide weak support for the inferences that motor voter programs are the registration reforms most likely to consistently produce participation increases across various political groups; the magnitude may be greatest on those least interested in politics. Moreover, tests using state-level data indicate that the greatest effect of registration reforms regarding partisan registration lies in increased registration of persons affiliated with neither major party. Regarding partisan advantage, agency-based registration programs significantly, albeit modestly, increase registration among Democrats. However, consistent with conventional academic wisdom, there is scant evidence of registration reform affecting the electoral prospects of partisans or incumbents. Finally, this dissertation provides evidence that, at least in the American system of governance, administration may be inherently political. Results suggest that partisan and regional disparities in the implementation of reforms may dampen the effect of these reforms on participation, and the regional disparity may be quite large. This preliminary result requires further review.







Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 59-03, Section: A, page: 9500.; Advisors: Candice J. Nelson; David H. Rosenbloom; Stephen Knack.; Ph.D. American University 1998.; English


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