Sociology Mind
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 56-61
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Predictors of Electoral Participation among Spanish
and Latin American Undergraduates
José Juan Vázquez1, Sonia Panadero2, Ana B. García-Varela1
1Universidad de Alcalá, Alcalá de Henares, Spain
2Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain
Email:,, abelen.garcí
Received September 14th, 2012; revised October 18th, 2012; accepted November 4th, 2012
This paper presents the results of a study of 709 undergraduates in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile, and
Spain, countries with different developmental levels that held the first free elections following their re-
spective dictatorships within a thirteen year span. The paper analyzes the electoral participation of under-
graduates in relation to different factors. Results show a high electoral participation among Salvadoran,
Nicaraguan, and Spanish undergraduates, while low turnout is observed among Chileans. The best pre-
dictors of electoral participation of undergraduates are related to their nationality, economic status, inter-
est in politics, gender or living away from home.
Keywords: Electoral Participation; Predictors; Latin-America; Spain
Voter turnout has been a major area of interest in most states,
especially when they describe themselves as democratic. Spe-
cial attention has been paid to aspects related with new voter
turnout, in particular when there is a decline in the interest and
motivation of young people into political action (Ellis, 2004)
that could result, among other things, from such factors as poor
self-perception as agents of social change. This seems to influ-
ence more involvement in low-key political activities (signing
petitions, donating money...) than in active work towards posi-
tive social change (Ellis, 2004).
In this sense, this paper analyse the electoral participation of
undergraduates in relation to different factor in Nicaragua, El
Salvador, Chile, and Spain. These countries present different
developmental levels that held de first free elections following
their respective dictatorships within a thirteen year span. In this
paper we will make a literature review about the factors that
influence electoral behaviour to compare it with our data analy-
sis. In our final results we show that the best predictors of elec-
toral participation of undergraduates are related to their nation-
ality, economic status, interest in politics, gender or living away
from home.
Literature Review
While there are many factors that can influence electoral be-
havior, literature has paid particular attention to issues relating
to socioeconomic aspects (social class, economic situation...),
underscoring, at least in the United States, a correlation be-
tween socioeconomic capacity (with what this entails: money,
education, personal resources…) and political participation
(Leighley, 1995); those individuals with greater socioeconomic
resources can cope more easily with expenses associated with
electoral participation: registration, collecting information, travel
to the polls, and so on (Johnson, Stein and Wrinkle 2003).
Cognitions associated with politics (ideology, interests…)
are among the major factors used when analyzing electoral
performance. Together with this, other aspects appear to also
influence electoral performance, such as the perception of effi-
cacy and confidence in certain institutions, as well as member-
ship in associations, organizations... This aspect, brought up by
Almond and Verba (1963) in the sixties, became a major area
of interest in the English-speaking world (Parry, Moyser, &
Day, 1992; Verba, Schlozman, & Brady, 1995; Moyser & Parry,
1997) as well as in Europe (Dekker, Koopmans, & Van de
Broek, 1997; Stolle & Ronchon, 1999) and Central America
(Seligson, 1999); a positive correlation is observed between
membership in associations or organizations and political activ-
ity of its members. The formation of share capital arising from
affiliation with organizations is listed as one of the most rele-
vant mechanisms in explaining the political activity of indi-
viduals (Teorell, 2003; Bekkers, 2005).
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Chile and Spain, countries with very
different developmental levels, held the first free elections fol-
lowing their respective dictatorships within a thirteen year span:
in 1977 Spain; 1984, El Salvador; 1989, Chile; and in 1990,
Nicaragua. Currently, the electoral processes in such states
conform to democratic standards; though this does not prevent
the occasional rise of allegations of electoral fraud (Vázquez,
Panadero, & Rincón 2005). These states present differences in
their institutional organizations (presidencialist systems in
Chile, Nicaragua, and El Salvador, parliamentary monarchy in
Spain; unicameral systems in El Salvador and Nicaragua and
bicameral in Chile and Spain), and in their electoral systems
(compulsory voting and pre-registration in Chile, voting age at
sixteen in Nicaragua, etc.), which may influence electoral par-
ticipation. The official voter turnout rates vary between the
highest Chilean rates (86.6% in the 2001 presidential and par-
liamentary elections and 87% in the 2005 presidential elec-
tion), and the lowest in El Salvador (67.4% in the 2004 presi-
dential election) or Spain (68.7% in the 2000 parliamentary
election and 75.6% in the 2004 general election). Voter turnout
in Nicaragua stood at 76.4% and 75% in the 1996 and 2001
presidential elections, respectively.
Next to these political factors, there are other characteristics
that distinguish these countries significantly, some of which are
summarised in Table 1.
Participants were 709 psychology undergraduates from Ni-
caragua (“Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua” in
León and “Universidad Autónoma de Chinandega”), El Sal-
vador (“Universidad Centroamericana José Simeón Cañas” and
“Universidad Evangélica” of El Salvador), Chile (“Univer-
sidad de Concepción” and “Universidad Santo Tomás”) and
Spain (Universidad Complutense de Madrid). Because of age
constraints that excluded students that were unable to vote in
recent elections in their country, the final sample size consists
of 656 students: 208 Nicaraguans, 193 Salvadorans, 139 Chi-
leans, and 116 Spanish.
The participants are mostly women, with an average age of
22.41 years (SD = 4.456), and the majority unmarried (87.0%).
A self-administered questionnaire was used, which was de-
signed in Spain and adapted to include all the different Spanish
language variants utilized in America. Administration of the
questionnaire, conducted in the classrooms, was collective. No
time limit was established to answer the questionnaire. Data
was collected during the year 2007.
From information gathered from the questionnaire, the fol-
lowing was used for this study:
Sociodemographic data, including perception of the social
class to which they belong;
Professional goals, emigration, and degree of satisfaction
with the economic situation of their families;
Political attitudes, exercising the right to vote, and partici-
pation in organizations;
Pride of origin (nationality) and degree of trust in institu-
Stressful life events, compiled using a modified version of
the LTE-Q (List of Threatening Experiences Questionnaire;
Brugha and Cragg, 1990).
The analyses were carried out using the Statistical Package
for the Social Sciences (Version 12.0). Comparisons were made
in different variables among those who exercised their right to
vote and those who did not. Data was analyzed using the Chi-
square test for comparison of nominal variables, while an inde
pendent sample’s Student’s t-test was utilized for continuous
Discriminant analyses were performed using the stepwise in-
clusion method according to the “Wilks’ Lambda” criterion, in
which the dependent variable was defined as “exercised the
right to vote”, with two values: 0, for individuals who did not
vote; and 1, for those who did vote. Statistical analysis of the
differences between individuals who exercised and those that
did not exercise this right led to selection of independent vari-
ables, including those variables in which both groups differed
in a statistically significant way.
Due to an unequal group sample size, a random subgroup (n =
151) was selected for discriminant analysis among individuals
who voted.
76.2% of the samples (483 students) had voted in their coun-
try’s most recent elections, although levels of participation
differed greatly among countries (2 = 236,855; p < 0.001):
Chilean students present turnout rates (26.9%) significantly
lower than the Spanish (81.7%), Nicaraguan (87%), and Salva-
doran (95%) students.
Table 2 shows several socio-demographic characteristics of
individuals who voted and those who did not.
As shown in Table 2, although both groups consisted mostly
of women, the percentage of women is significantly higher
among those who voted (83% versus 71.5%). Also, the group
formed by those who voted is characterized by having a higher
average age (22.6 years versus 21.4 years) and a smaller per-
centage of singles (86.4% versus 95.3%).
Table 3 contains several socioeconomic characteristics of
those who exercised their right to vote and those who did not.
As shown in Table 3, those who voted have a higher per-
centage of dissatisfaction with their family economic situation,
predominantly belong to “lower-middle” and “lower” social
classes, have a higher percentage of combining studies with
work activity, and feel a higher sense of national pride. There
were no significant differences in exercising the right to vote in
relation to such factors as contemplating the possibility of
“practicing their profession as psychologists in the future”,
considering that “their career prospects would improve outside
their country”, or “have weighed the possibility of emigrating”.
Table 1.
Characteristics of Chile, Spain, Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Chile Spain Nicaragua El Salvador
Extension in km2 748,800 504,800 120,254 20,720
Total population (millions)* 17.1 45.3 5.8 6.2
Year of enactment of the Constitution 1980 1978 1987 1983
Human Development Index (HDI) rank* 45 20 115 90
Life expectancy at birth (years)* 78.8 81.3 73.8 72
Adult literacy rate (% aged 15 and above)* 98.6 97.6 78 84
GDP per capita (PPP US$)* 13,561 29,669 2567 6498
Population below income poverty line (%)*--- --- 45.8 30.7
ote: *UNDP, 2010.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 57
Table 2.
Gender, age, and marital status in relation to electoral participation.
(n = 483)
Not voted
(n = 151)
Gender 10.209***
Male 71.5% 28.5%
Female 83.3% 16.7%
Mean age (SD) 22.6
(2.509) 4.105***
Marital status 9.271*
Single 86.4% 95.3%
Married or living together as a couple 11.7% 4.7%
Separated or divorced 1.7% ---
Widowed 0.2% ---
Note: *p 0.05; ***p 0.001.
Table 3.
Socioeconomic characteristics in relation to electoral participation.
(n = 483)
Not voted
(n = 151)2
Social class perceived 10.406*
High 0.6% ---
Middle-high 12.0% 14.7%
Middle 57.1% 67.3%
Middle-low 25.1% 16.0%
Low 5.3% 2.0%
Household economic situation 12.705*
Very satisfactory 9.1% 15.9%
Satisfactory 31.1% 39.7%
Neither satisfactory nor unsatisfactory 35.7% 28.5%
Unsatisfactory 19.9% 13.2%
Very unsatisfactory 4.1% 2.6%
Combine studies with work activities 45.0% 20.3% 29.018***
Sense of national pride 17.577***
Very high 52.5% 34.7%
High 32.9% 42.0%
Low 12.7% 18.0%
Very low 1.9% 5.3%
Note: *p 0.05; ***p 0.001.
Table 4 reflects the differences between those who exercised
and not exercised their right to vote according to their position
in the political spectrum and degree of interest in politics.
Both groups are very similar with respect to their position in
the political spectrum; without statistically significant differ-
ences in this regard: the majority of students are politically
inclined towards “center” or “center-left” politics.
Those who voted significantly showed a higher interest in
politics, basically half of them acknowledged a “high” or “very
high” interest, reducing the percentage of those who did not
vote to a third.
There were no statistically significant differences among
those who voted and those who did not in the level of confi-
dence expressed in the “legal system” or “representative and
senate chambers”. However, there are significant differences in
the level of confidence in the “police” and “public officials or
bureaucrats”; higher, in both cases, among those who did not
vote (Table 5).
Table 6 shows that those who belong to “churches or reli-
gious organizations”, “educational or artistic groups”, “political
parties or groups”, “favoring human rights organizations”, and
Table 4.
Position in the political spectrum and interest in politics in relation to
electoral participation.
(n = 483)
Not voted
(n = 151)2
Where are you in the political spectrum? 2.140
Left 22.6% 20.5%
Center-left 25.4% 22.7%
Center 34.0% 40.2%
Center-right 8.8% 6.8%
Right 9.2% 9.8%
Degree of interest in politics 15.450***
Very high 8.8% 6.7%
High 37.1% 27.3%
Low 43.3% 43.3%
Very low 10.8% 22.7%
Note: ***p 0.001.
Table 5.
Degree of trust in different institutions in relation to electoral participa-
(n = 483)
Not voted
(n = 151)2
Degree of trust in the police 14.387**
Very high 0.4% ---
High 17.5% 26.0%
Low 48.4% 55.3%
Very low 33.6% 18.7%
Degree of trust in public officials or
bureaucrats 20.846***
Very high --- ---
High 5.2% 7.3%
Low 47.7% 66.7%
Very low 47.1% 26.0%
Note: ***p 0.001.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Table 6.
Memberships in associations, groups or organizations in relation to
electoral participation.
(n = 483)
Not voted
(n = 151)2
Belonging to churches and religious
organizations 50.0% 37.7% 6.927**
Belonging to educational or artistic
groups 37.1% 28.2% 3.956*
Belonging to unions 2.9% 0.7% 2.498
Belonging to political parties or groups9.4% 3.3% 5.735*
Belonging to favouring human rights
organizations 15.9% 5.3% 11.001***
Belonging to youth groups 37.6% 32.7% 1.190
Belonging to student organizations 17.6% 13.4% 1.437
Belonging to non-governmental
organizations or volunteer groups 30.4% 19.5% 6.794**
Note: *p 0.05; **p 0.01; ***p 0.001.
“non-governmental organizations or aid volunteer groups” show
higher electoral participation.
The analysis of stressful events experienced by those inter-
viewed (Table 7) suggests that those who have endured greater
economic problems tend to vote more. On their part, students
who are away from home appeared to show lower electoral
participation. There are no statistically significant differences
between voters and non-voters with respect to the number of
stressful life events experienced.
Discriminant analysis results indicate that the independent
variables that best discriminate among voters and non-voters in
recent elections (helping predict the group to which they belong)
are: degree of interest in politics, pride of one’s nationality,
being Chilean, being Salvadoran, and living away from home.
Inclusion of other variables does not contribute in a significant
way to discrimination between the two groups, therefore, were
not included in the discriminant function.
Table 8 reveals a statistically significant discriminant func-
tion, that correlates with group variables with a value of 0.672,
and whose Chi-square is statistically significant. The group
centroids are 0.905 for the group consisting of those who did
not exercise the right to vote and 0.905 for the group of those
that did vote:
The standardized coefficients seen in Table 8 show the sign
and magnitude assigned to each of the variables included in the
discriminant function, which has a Wilks’ Lambda value of
0.548 (p < 0.001). This function correctly classifies 80.0% of
the cases, a figure that exceeds the maximum randomness crite-
rion. 94.6% of the group that exercised the right to vote and
65.5% of the group that did not were correctly assigned to the
right group. Both groups meet the accuracy classification crite-
rion “a fourth greater than that obtained by random selection”
(Hair et al., 1999). Thus, the combination that best explains
electoral participation is: high or very high interest in politics, a
strong sense of national pride, not being Chilean, being Salva-
doran, and not living away from home.
A second discriminant analysis was performed excluding na-
tionality, the results of which indicated that the independent
variables that provide the best possible discrimination among
Table 7.
Significant economic problems, living away from home and number of
stressful life events suffered in relation to electoral participation.
(n = 483)
Not vote
(n = 151) 2/t
Are you living away from home26.1% 40.0% 10.694***
Have you endured significant
economic problems 54.9% 39.7% 10.558***
Average number of stressful life
events (SD) 2.90 (2.244) 2.55 (2.034)1.643
Note: ***p 0.001.
Table 8.
Standardized canonical discriminant function coefficients.
High or very high degree of interest in politics 0.241
High or very high pride of origin (nationality) 0.207
Chilean nationality 0.852
Salvadoran nationality 0.296
Living away from home 0.255
those who voted in recent elections and those who did not are:
degree of interest in politics, living away from home, combin-
ing studies and working activities, gender, and having endured
significant economic problems.
The results listed in Table 9 reveal a statistically significant
discriminant function, that correlates with group variables with
a value of 0.391, and whose Chi-square is statistically signifi-
cant. The group centroids are 0.423 for the group formed by
those who failed to exercise the right to vote and 0.423 for the
group of those who did vote.
The standardized coefficients listed in Table 9 show the sign
and magnitude assigned to each of the three variables included
in the discriminant function, which has a Wilks’ Lambda value
of 0.847 (p < 0.001). This function correctly classifies 64.7% of
the cases, a figure which exceeds the maximum randomness
criterion. 66.4% of the group that voted and 63.0% of the group
of those that did not were correctly assigned to the right group,
showing that both groups meet the accuracy classification crite-
rion (Hair, 1999), although in this case by a narrower margin
than in the previous case. By excluding nationality, the combi-
nation that best explains exercising the right to vote is: high or
very high interest in politics, combining studies and working
activity, being a woman, having endured major economic pro-
blems, and not living away from home.
Analysis and Discussion
While there is a very high electoral participation among Sal-
vadoran students 25 points higher than the official turnout rate
of the country- and among Spanish and Nicaraguans-more than
10 points higher than the official turnout rates of their respec-
tive countries, electoral participation among Chilean students is
remarkably low: 60 points below the official voter turnout in
Chile. This data is particularly relevant considering that Chile is
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 59
Table 9.
Standardized canonical discriminant function coefficients.
High or very high degree of interest in politics 0.417
Combine studies with work-related activities 0.487
Being a man 0.527
Having suffered significant economic problems 0.353
Living away from home 0.524
the country that officially presents the highest electoral partici-
pation of the four. The Chilean electoral registration process
together with mandatory participation of the registered, com-
pared with automated registration and voluntary participation in
the other three countries, seems to discourage student voting
behavior, despite them exhibiting a high interest in politics.
Undoubtedly, as pointed out by different sources (Fuentes &
Villar, 2004), to encourage electoral participation of new vot-
ers—at least university students—it may be of importance to
review the pre-registration and compulsory voting requirements
at election time.
Female students have a higher rate of voter participation than
their male counterparts, although this difference is not seen
among Central American students analyzed separately (Vázquez,
Panadero, & Rincón, 2005, 2006). The Chilean and Spanish
female students, however, are more inclined to vote than their
male counterparts. Older students and those who live with a
partner (perhaps because of their greater stability and age) tend
to vote more. According to the observations of Hritzuk and
Park (2000), the passage of time and personal stability among
the Latino population in the United States appear to be associ-
ated with increased electoral participation.
Contrasting Leighley’s observations (1995), which point out
a direct link between socioeconomic status and political par-
ticipation, this study reveals that the students most pleased with
their economic situation, those belonging to the highest social
classes and who don’t combine their studies with working ac-
tivities—perhaps the most satisfied with the status quo, show
lower electoral participation. On the other hand, a worse eco-
nomic situation seems to encourage voter behavior among psy-
chology students. In fact, when analyzing the various stressful
events experienced by the interviewees, one can observe that
having endured “economic problems” is more common among
those who voted. The perceived need to influence the political
situation in order to improve one’s personal situation could
boost electoral participation.
While those who vote tend to be more interested in politics,
electoral performance is not influenced by their position in the
political spectrum, as voter turnout rates for those who consider
themselves leftists are similar to those of rightists. Nevertheless,
despite the absence of statistically significant differences, the
students who declare themselves as “centrists” are less likely to
vote, as they interpret that positioning themselves in the center
of the political spectrum is not a political ideology, but a way of
expressing non-identification with traditional parties and a loss
of confidence in political forces. Thus far, this aspect does not
seem to influence decisively on electoral participation, which is
very high even among those considered to be located in “cen-
ter” politics, since in fact, trust in the legal system or in the
legislative chambers does not seem to correlate with electoral
participation. However, those who express more confidence in
the police and public officials have the lowest rates of voter
turnout. Once more, satisfaction with the status quo may help
explain loss of voting motivation.
Joining religious organizations, educational or artistic groups,
political parties, favouring human rights organizations, or non-
governmental organizations, is associated with higher rates of
voter turnout. This data confirms the correlation observed by
different authors (Bekkers, 2005; Vázquez, Panadero, & Rin-
cón, 2005) among those belonging to associations, groups or
organizations, and political activity of its members; reinforcing
the theory raised by Teorell (2003) in which the mechanisms of
shared capital formation arising from affiliation with organiza-
tions represent one of the most important mechanisms in the
explanation of an individual’s political activity.
Those studying in universities away from their home show
lower electoral participation. The need to go to their place of
residence to vote or, if that fails, being ready to vote in advance
by mail, seems to reduce electoral participation among these
youths. While economic problems and living away from home
affect electoral partition, no differences are observed with re-
spect to the number of stressful life events experienced, despite
the negative effects of these on emotions (Vázquez, Panadero,
& Rincón, 2007).
Following the data analysis, we conclude that undergraduates
from Salvador, Nicaragua, and Spain present a higher electoral
participation than Chile. The best predictors of electoral par-
ticipation of undergraduates are related to their nationality,
economic status, interest in politics, gender or living away from
Along these lines, these discriminant analyses identify these
factors as best indicators of electoral turnout: a high voter in-
terest in politics, pride in one’s nationality, and not living away
from home. Once again, the latter situation emerges as a major
factor in inhibiting the exercise of the right to vote. In this re-
spect, facilitating voting by mail could favour electoral partici-
pation of new voters.
The observed low turnout of Chilean students, as opposed to
the very high turnout of Salvadoran students, once again stands
out in the discriminant analysis. A similar situation occurs
when combining studies with some work-related activity or
having endured significant economic problems, factors that are
associated with an increased voter behaviour.
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