The Causes and Representative Consequences of Invalid Voting in Latin America
Cohen, Mollie Jane
Across the Latin American region, invalid votes regularly “win” over candidates from smaller political parties. This dissertation assesses how individual and contextual factors affect individuals' decision to assume the costs of turning out to vote but then choose not to select a candidate, and to what political effect. First, I find that most invalid votes in Latin American presidential elections are cast as a protest signal that reflects disappointment with specific policy outcomes or with a particular slate of candidate offerings rather than with democracy itself. Second, I argue and show that elite polarization, the number of candidates competing, and flux in the partisan options shape invalid voting by changing the ease with which citizens navigate politics, as well as their perceptions of the representativeness of the political space. Third, I find that efforts to mobilize the invalid vote have occurred in more than twenty Latin American presidential elections since 1980, mostly as an expression of discontent with candidate options, or with corruption in politics, although evidence of accompanying increases in government corruption is limited. Finally, I show that small ideological and radical parties respond to historical rates of invalid voting in making strategic decisions about where to enter competition in Peru.