Public Policy

Can unconditional cash transfers encourage voters to cast ballots? Evidence from elections in Brazil



Low-income voters are typically underrepresented in elections. Even in countries adopting compulsory voting, there is a consolidated pattern of voter turnout decline among the poor. I argue that implementing an unconditional cash transfer (UCT) can decrease both direct and indirect costs of voting and thus enhance the electoral participation of low-income voters. I test these claims by leveraging Maricá’s unconditional cash transfer (MUCT), the largest UCT in Latin America implemented in Brazil in 2013. Causal estimates from a difference-in-differences design show that voter abstention decreased by 15% after the cash transfer intervention in Maricá. Furthermore, the share of undecided voters - typically those who decide to discard their votes instead of voting for one of the candidates displayed on the ballot - decreased by 33% after the MUCT implementation. These findings suggest that paying periodic unconditional benefits can mobilize low-income voters and encourage them to participate in elections.


Thumbnail image of Araújo_Victor_UCT_abstention_Maricá_Brazil.pdf

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