Researching Voter Turnout and the Electoral Subaltern: Utilizing “Class” as Identity

Dennis Pilon


Political scientists struggle to explain why citizen engagement generally, and turnout at elections specifically, keep declining, despite considerable research on this problem. This article explores how attention to class understood as a lived experience might refocus this research in more productive ways. Political scientists are having difficulty accessing nonvoters—the group they need to talk to—because they make too many assumptions about who this group is and how nonvoters understand politics and the world. By contrast, this article argues that “just asking” people about elections and voting is more complicated than it might appear. It adumbrates the many ways in which classed assumptions on the part of researchers interfere with designing research instruments, gaining access to the population under study, and interpreting what the groups are saying with their responses. Finally, the article draws on Gramsci, Bourdieu, and political ethnography to set out possible alternatives to the current approaches. 

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Studies in Political Economy:
Online ISSN 1918-7033
Print ISSN 0707-8552