Was my decision to vote (or abstain) the right one?

By André Blais, Fernando Feitosa and Semra Sevi, Université de Montréal 

How do individuals, after the election, evaluate their decision to vote or abstain? This is the question our study examines in our recent publication in Party Politics.  

Respondents were asked, right after the election, how satisfied they are with their decision to vote (or not to vote)” We hypothesize that satisfaction (or lack of it) is driven primarily by voters’ motivation to vote. The study includes interest in politics, a sense of civic duty, and party attachment as motivating factors for voting, and it also examines how the cost of voting and socio-demographic factors affect voters’ satisfaction with their decision to vote or to abstain. Finally, the study examines whether priming voters about the result of the election affects their satisfaction with their decision.

We use an original dataset that is part of the Making Electoral Democracy Work Project, led by André Blais. We analyze a total of 22 surveys conducted in 5 different countries (Canada, France, Germany, Spain and Switzerland) in national, supra-national and sub-national elections held between 2011 and 2015. The surveys ask respondents, after the election, to indicate whether they think that their decision to vote (or abstain) was a very good decision, a fairly good decision, a fairly bad decision, or a very bad decision. Half of the respondents are primed to consider the results of the election (“Given the outcome…”) before indicating their level of satisfaction.

Our study tests the four following hypotheses:

  • The stronger the motivation to vote, the more satisfied (dissatisfied) one is with her decision to vote (abstain).
  • The higher the cost of voting, the less (more) satisfied one is with her decision to vote (abstain).
  • Men, older and better educated citizens are more satisfied with their decision to vote or abstain.
  • Priming ‘given the outcome’ decreases (increases) satisfaction among voters (abstainers).

We find that an overwhelming majority of those who voted in an election feel, ex post, that they made the right decision, while non-voters are less certain about the correctness of their choice to abstain. Table 1 shows the total distribution of responses to our satisfaction questions. Of those who voted, 71 per cent indicated that they made a very good decision and another 26 per cent said that it was a fairly good decision. An overwhelming majority of voters thus felt very positive about their decision to vote. Things were different among abstainers. Only 26 per cent of abstainers qualified their choice as a very good one, while as many as 40 per cent acknowledged that it was a very or fairly bad decision not to vote. Abstainers are thus much more critical of their choice than voters.


Table 1: Distribution of responses (in %) to satisfaction with decision to vote/abstain


to vote



to abstain


Very bad decision 1 15
Fairly bad decision 2 25
Fairly good decision 26 34
Very good decision 71 26
N 17,561 1,891


We also show that each motivating factor (interest in politics, sense of duty, party attachment) has an impact on voter (non-voter) satisfaction with their decision to vote (abstain), confirming H1. The findings present only partial support for H2, and suggest that motivational factors trump cost considerations in voters’ judgments. The data agree fully with the predictions of H3 for age, but only partially for gender and education. Finally, the prime has a substantial marginal impact, decreasing the likelihood of saying that the decision to vote was a very good decision by 10 percentage points. Interestingly, the prime does not have any impact among those who had abstained. 

Our study shows that citizens’ views about the correctness of their decision to vote or abstain depend first and foremost on the strength of their motivation to vote. Those who are highly interested in politics, who believe that they have a moral obligation to vote, and who feel close to a party have no doubt that their decision to vote was the right one while the verdict is much less positive when they failed to vote.


For more details, see Blais, A., Feitosa, F., and Sevi, S. (2017). “Was my decision to vote (or abstain) the right one?” Party Politics, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1354068817722058


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