Duty to vote and political support in Asia

By Carol Galais, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya & André Blais, Université de Montréal 

What is the story

Although sense of civic duty is a well-known predictor of voting behavior, we do not know much about its foundations.  Hence the question: what are the psychological orientations that predispose citizens to believe that they do (or do not) have a duty to vote?

The moral and communitarian nature of the duty to vote have led several authors to establish links between this belief and attitudes towards democracy and one’s country. We posit that the belief that voting is a duty will be stronger among supporters of democracy and/or of their political community. We also posit that two contextual factors, degree of democracy and ethnic fractionalization, moderate the effect of political support on duty.

We test these expectations by means of two Asian Barometer Surveys conducted in 2004 and 2005, gathering 21 Asian countries, which provide a sufficiently diverse sample in terms of both democracy and heterogeneity.


Figure 1 shows the mean value of duty in each of the 21 countries. These values range from .99 (Bangladesh) to .67 (Turkmenistan). South Asian countries score higher, while East Asian countries (Japan, Korea and Mongolia) come second in line. Southeast and Central (former Soviet Socialist Republics) Asian countries tend to score lower.

Figure 1: Average duty to vote per country.

The estimations presented in Table 1 confirm the relationship between both aspects of political support and the duty to vote; support for one’s political community matters more than support for democracy. Finally, cross-level interactions are significant: the impact of support for democracy on duty is stronger in more democratic countries, and the effect of support for political community is more pronounced in ethnically fractionalized countries.

Table 1: Multilevel estimations of the duty to vote.


The belief that one has a moral obligation to vote stems more from attachment to one’s country than from the belief that democracy is a good thing.
The interaction between support for democracy and duty suggests that, under dictatorship, democracy supporters are more focused on basic rights than on their own duties. It is also possible that citizens develop beliefs about their duties as citizens only once the political system guarantees them political rights.
As for the interaction between fractionalization and duty, this suggests that societies that have overcome their divides can turn diversity into strength, building more encompassing national identities which bolster the civic duty to vote. Those who are proud of their diverse country adhere to the symbols, rules and institutions that keep the country together.

For more details, see: Galais, C., & Blais, A. (2016). “Duty to Vote and Political Support in Asia. International.” Journal of Public Opinion Research, doi.org/10.1093/ijpor/edw019.

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