News Release

Can public financing for political campaigns affect voter participation?

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Policies that provide public financing for political campaigns have gained popularity in the United States. One example is the Democracy Vouchers program that was implemented in Seattle, Washington in 2017 to potentially reduce candidates' reliance on large donations. Research published in Contemporary Economic Policy studied the effects of this program on voter registration and turnout.

In Seattle’s Democracy Vouchers program, every registered voter in the city receives $100 worth of publicly funded vouchers to donate to candidates for municipal office, and candidates who accept vouchers agree to limits on non‐voucher contributions.

By analyzing data on voter registration, voter turnout, and campaign donations from 2009 to 2021 in King County, where Seattle is located, Sarah Papich, a PhD candidate in economics at the University of California Santa Barbara, estimated that the Democracy Vouchers program increased voter turnout by 4.9 percentage points. This finding suggests that public financing programs can increase political participation.

The analysis also revealed a shift in the composition of political contributions, with campaigns becoming more reliant on small contributions after the Democracy Vouchers program was implemented. For city council candidates, dollars from small contributions under $100 increased by 156% whereas dollars from large contributions over $250 decreased by 93%.

“Low voter turnout and the disproportionate influence of big donors are two significant problems in our democracy,” said Papich. “These findings provide encouraging evidence that public financing for political campaigns can help address both problems.”

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Additional Information
The information contained in this release is protected by copyright. Please include journal attribution in all coverage. For more information or to obtain a PDF of any study, please contact: Sara Henning-Stout,

About the Journal
First published in 1982, Contemporary Economic Policy publishes scholarly research and analysis on important policy issues facing society. The journal provides insight into the complexity of policy decisions and communicates evidence-based solutions in a form accessible to economists and policy makers. Contemporary Economic Policy provides a forum for debate by enhancing our understanding of key issues and methods used for policy analysis.

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