Is small beautiful? Transitional and structural effects of municipal amalgamation on voter turnout in local and national elections

Maarten Allers, Joes de Natris, Harm Rienks, Tom de Greef

Published: April 2021


The effect of jurisdiction size on democracy is hotly debated. Allegedly, smallness promotes democracy, whereas effectiveness and efficiency increase with size. Neither claim has strong empirical underpinnings. We provide evidence for the former. We use municipal amalgamations as a source of exogenous variation in jurisdiction size and show that it reduced voter turnout in Dutch elections in the 1986–2018 period. This period is sufficiently long to separate potential temporary effects of the amalgamation process from a structural effect of size increase. Surprisingly, we find no evidence of the former. Municipal amalgamation reduces turnout in local elections by 2.2 percentage points and in national elections by 0.7 percentage points. Both effects are long-lasting, persisting at least five elections after amalgamation. More detailed analysis reveals that the most likely driving forces are a weakening of the social norm to vote, and, in municipal elections, increased distance between voters and politics.

Full Access Link: Electoral Studies