Opening hours of polling stations and voter turnout: Evidence from a natural experiment

  • Niklas Potrafke
  • Felix Roesel


Voter turnout has declined in many countries, raising the question of whether electoral institutions increase voter turnout. We exploit an electoral reform in the Austrian state of Burgenland as a natural experiment to identify the causal effect of polling station opening hours on voter turnout. The results show that a 10% increase in opening hours increased voter turnout by some 0.5 to 0.9 percentage points. The reform also influenced party vote shares. The vote share of the conservative party decreased in the course of the reform, while the vote shares of the other three main parties increased. Conservative voters tend to have an especially strict sense of civic duty and would have participated in the election in any event. Simulations indicate that parliamentary majorities in previous elections would have changed under extended opening hours in favor of the social democratic party. The opening hours of polling stations probably play a more important role in political strategies than recognized to date.


Voter turnout Party vote shares Opening hours of polling stations Causal effects Natural experiment Austria 

JEL classifications

D72 D02 Z18 



We thank the Editor Axel Dreher, three anonymous referees and Luis Aguiar-Conraria, Felix Arnold, Lutz Arnold, Julie Cullen, Gordon Dahl, Matz Dahlberg, Natalia Danzer, Itzik Fadlon, Andra Filote, Kai Gehring, Benny Geys, Arye Hillman, Andreas Peichl, Helmut Rainer, Mark Schelker, Sebastian Siegloch, Jörg Spenkuch, Heinrich Ursprung, Kaspar Wühtrich, Yue Huang, the participants of the CGDE Workshop 2016 in Magdeburg, the Silvaplana Workshop in Political Economy 2016 in Pontresina, the annual meeting of the Public Choice Society 2017 in New Orleans, the European Public Choice Society 2017 in Budapest, the CESifo Area Conference Public Sector Economics 2017 in Munich, the German Economic Association (VfS) 2017 in Vienna, the Annual Meeting of the Research Group on Public Economics (VfS) in Magdeburg, and seminars at the University of Munich (2016), ifo Institute (2016), University of California, San Diego (2016), Santa Barbara (2016), Irvine (2017), University of Michigan (2016) Northwestern University (2017), University of Marburg (2017), University of Regensburg (2017) for helpful comments, and Lisa Giani-Contini for proof-reading. Kristin Fischer and Constanze Wobar provided excellent research assistance.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ifo Institute, Ifo Center for Public Finance and Political EconomyMunichGermany
  2. 2.University of MunichMunichGermany
  3. 3.Ifo Institute, Dresden BranchDresdenGermany
  4. 4.Technische Universität DresdenDresdenGermany

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