Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic
Extremely low voter turnout may indicate low interest in public affairs, or even in democracy itself, and is thus often seen as an indicator of the quality of democracy. It also undermines the legitimacy of elections and whole institutions. In the long run, low turnout can be a threat to the preservation of democracy. Using the case of Czech Senate elections, this research examines factors that potentially explain the extremely low turnout we observe during certain types of elections. This study measures the effect of trust in an institution and knowledge of the institution – two factors which have to date received little attention in previous research and which have the potential to explain the differences in electoral turnout between institutions in the same country where traditional theories (such as the Second Order Election Thesis) are insufficient. Using an online survey method that included questions measuring general political knowledge, knowledge of the Senate, and the trust in the Senate, original data representing the population of the Czech Republic aged 18 to 65 (n=2,096) were collected. A logistic regression model analysis reveals that the odds ratio of people voting in Senate elections has a strong positive association with trust in the Senate as an institution. Consequently, future research should develop a more detailed concept of trust in a particular institution and explain how such trust is constituted. This applies not only to Czech Senate elections: a similar effect is evident in European Parliament elections in several EU member states. Although this study fails to show that knowledge of an institution affects voter turnout, it does show that people’s knowledge of the Senate is much lower than their general political knowledge. This study also confirms previous work showing a strong positive association between higher general political knowledge and voter turnout.
trust in institution; knowledge of institution; political knowledge; electoral turnout; upper chambers; senate elections; electoral behaviour