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Democracy learning, election quality and voter turnout: Evidence from village elections in rural China

Tonglong Zhang (School of Economics, Tianjing Normal University, Tianjing, China.)
Linxiu Zhang (Center for Chinese Agricultural Policy, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China.)
Linke Hou (Center for Economic Research, Shandong University, Jinan, China.)

China Agricultural Economic Review

ISSN: 1756-137X

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




After two decades of village elections, the quality of village elections, rather than the utility of village elections, becomes the focus of current research. Based on nationally representative data at the village level, the purpose of this paper is to investigate the determinants of voting participation, focussing on the effect of election quality. The findings show that competitiveness, vote buying and manipulation are the key determinants significantly affecting village turnouts. The results are robust to alternative specifications.


As discussed, the authors take three measures for villagers’ willingness to vote, e.g. raw turnout (RT), voluntary turnout (VT) and direct turnout (DT). The authors include four types of elements which affect the willingness to participate, the electoral quality, procedure and implementation, individual rationality, village social structure and villages’ level of modernization. The causal mechanism of elements and turnout can be written as: Turnout=f (election quality and procedure, individual rationality, mobilization structure, modernization).


Competitiveness, vote buying and manipulation affect village turnout at significance level. More competitive elections tend to attract high participation of voting, and the effects on VT are the largest ones in magnitude, comparing with RT and DT, as well as manipulation. Village voters do not like to be fooled by nominal voting. If they recognize that elections are likely to be manipulated by township government, the turnout rates drop drastically. The effect associated with manipulation is larger than those associated with competitiveness and vote buying, indicating intervention from up-level government might block the improving process of election massively.


It is the first paper that address the effect of election quality on vote participation.



The authors would like to thank a number of people who have helped the authors in the efforts to design the survey form, collect and clean the data, and develop the preliminary draft of this paper. Above all, the authors thank all the enumerators and supervisors who spent weeks in rural China collecting the data. The authors also got guideline during the writing stage of the paper from Jikun Huang. The authors want to acknowledge the financial assistance of the State Key Program of National Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 71033003), the Youth Program of the National Social Science Foundation of China (Grant No. 11CGL058), the Youth Team Funding of Shandong University (Grant No. IFYT1223), Creation Boosting Plan for Excellent Researcher of Tianjin Normal University (Grant No. 52wx1302).


Zhang, T., Zhang, L. and Hou, L. (2015), "Democracy learning, election quality and voter turnout: Evidence from village elections in rural China", China Agricultural Economic Review, Vol. 7 No. 1, pp. 143-155.



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