One of political science’s better-established findings is that “the frequency of elections has a strongly negative influence on turnout,” as Arend Lijphart of the University of California at San Diego put it in a 1997 article.
Yet in the United States, we constantly hold elections: Every two years, we elect a new Congress and, in many states, a new legislature. Every four years, that’s combined with a presidential election. Some jurisdictions squeeze local balloting — for sheriff, school board, judge, coroner, you name it — into the years between midterm congressional and presidential elections. Of course, these are often twice-a-year exercises, since a primary precedes the general election. Sometimes primaries have runoffs!
In practice, it’s costly — in time, effort and, indeed, money — to stay politically informed and active.
Those costs must be weighed against the potential benefits of participating in an election whose results might last no more than a couple of years, to the extent they affect you personally at all. Frequent elections therefore bring on what Lijphart calls “voter fatigue.”
In a famous paper nearly 30 years ago, Richard W. Boyd of Wesleyan University found that the introduction of presidential primaries in northern states after 1968 accounted for a 10 percentage-point drop in those states’ general-election voter turnout by 1980.