Laura Konzelmann, Corina Wagner, Hans Rattinger
Turnout in Germany in the course of time: Life cycle and cohort effects on electoral turnout from 1953 to 2049

Electoral Studies, 2012: 31, Heft 2, S. 250-261

The steadily rising share of older voters could lead to them gaining an ever increasing level of political representation compared to younger voters not only because of the imbalance of numbers between the young and the old, but also because turnout rates among the old have always been aboveaverage. The latter argument only applies if the so-called life cycle effect is assumed to be dominant. However, diverse socialisation backgrounds, captured by the cohort effect, also have to be taken into account. It is also unclear what the interplay of these two effects of time implies for future aggregate turnout. Focusing on the German case, we base our analyses on the Repräsentative Wahlstatistik (Representative Electoral Statistic, RES) and population forecasts to estimate consequences of the demographic shifts for all federal elections from 1953 until today, as well as for future elections. First, we calculate life cycle, cohort and period effects on turnout for previous elections by using cohort analysis; second, we apply these net effects to the future age distribution under certain assumptions concerning life cycle and cohort effects. Our results show that the recent decline in turnout is in particular due to negative period effects and (in West Germany) to a minor extent also due to consequences of cohort replacement, whereas changes in the age structure have had a positive effect on turnout since 1990 in both parts of Germany. Additionally, our forecasts suggest that turnout rates will decline and that the over-representation of the old will continue until around 2030 and diminish afterwards in a 'greying' population.