Death and Turnout: The Human Costs of War and Voter Participation in Democracies Academic Article uri icon


  • ©2015, Midwest Political Science Association War heightens public interest in politics, especially when human lives are lost. We examine whether, and how, combat casualties affect the decision to vote in established democracies. Drawing from social psychology research on mortality salience, we expect increasing casualties to increase the salience of death, information that moves people to defend their worldview, especially nationalistic and ideological values. By heightening the importance of values, we propose that combat casualties increase the benefits of voting. In particular, we expect the effect of combat casualties to be pronounced among the least politically engaged. Using both cross-national data of elections in 23 democracies over a 50-year period and survey data from the United States and United Kingdom during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, we found that mounting casualties increase turnout. Furthermore, as expected, we found the effect of casualties to be most pronounced among those least interested in politics.

altmetric score

  • 52

author list (cited authors)

  • Koch, M. T., & Nicholson, S. P.

citation count

  • 11

publication date

  • November 2015