THE POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES OF
ALIENATION-BASED AND INDIFFERENCE-
BASED VOTER ABSTENTION: APPLICATIONS
TO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
James Adams, Jay Dow, and Samuel Merrill III
We present a uniﬁed model of turnout and vote choice that incorporates two distinct
motivations for citizens to abstain from voting: alienation from the candidates, and
indifference between the candidates. Empirically, we ﬁnd that alienation and indif-
ference each motivated signiﬁcant amounts of voter abstention in the 1980–1988 U.S.
presidential elections. Using model-based computer simulations—which permit us to
manipulate factors affecting turnout—we show that distinguishing between alienation
and indifference illuminates three controversies in elections research. First, we ﬁnd
that abstention because of either alienation or indifference beneﬁted Republican
candidates, but only very modestly. Second, presidential elections involving attractive
candidates motivate higher turnout, but only to the extent that abstention stems from
alienation rather than from indifference. Third, paradoxically, citizens’ individual-level
tendencies to abstain because of alienation are strongly affected by their evaluations of
the candidates’ policies, whereas aggregate turnout rates do not depend signiﬁcantly
on the candidates’ policy platforms.
Key words: voter turnout; abstention; uniﬁed model; conditional logit
The study of voter participation has generated an enormous scholarly lit-
erature, both among empirically oriented researchers interested in voter
turnout in real world elections and among formal theorists who study the
implications of turnout rates for candidates’ and parties’ vote-seeking
James Adams, Department of Political Science, University of California, Davis, CA, 95616,
USA. Jay Dow, Department of Political Science, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, 65211-
0630, USA (Dow@missouri.edu). Samuel Merrill, Department of Mathematics and Computer
Science, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre, PA, 18766, USA.
Political Behavior, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2006 (
0190-9320/06/0300-0065/0 Ó 2006 Springer ScienceþBusiness Media, Inc.