Importance of Turnout

By Julian Dierkes

One of the big questions on election night (June 26) will be whether voters will turn up to vote.

In recent presidential elections, the turnout had been steadily declining (2005: 74.9%, 2009 73.5%, 2013 66.5%). That was also true of parliamentary elections until turnout last year suddenly jumped back up to 73.5%.

Since the electorate’s vote was one of frustration last year (with the DP, but also with (party) politics more generally, it is a bit too simple to say that such frustration drives turnout, because that should have made the number drop last year which it didn’t.

From the quiet beginning of the campaign (at least in Ulaanbaatar) in the first few days, there’s no strong sense that the electorate is energized, but that may change in the course of the campaign, perhaps through TV debates.

Implications of Turnout

But the implications of a high or low turnout are significant, I think. There is a good chance that a second round will be required in this election. That chance will be determined to some extent by turnout. Put simply, the lower the turnout, the greater Enkhbold’s chances to win election outright. Put a higher turnout will make a second round more likely.

Why is that?

I am assuming that the core MPP voters are committed to Enkhbold as their candidate. They emphasize his experience in virtual all high offices (Ulaanbaatar mayor, prime minister, party leader, UIX speaker) and see him as a candidate who will bring stability to Mongolian politics. Given the MPP’s strong organization, esp. in the countryside, they are likely to be able to deliver their core votes with a high turnout.

Core MPRP voters (let’s say around 7-8%, judging by last year’s parliamentary election (8%) and the 2013 presidential election (6.6%)) are likely to turn out for Ganbaatar as well. Any additional voters for Ganbaatar are likely to be protest voters (Ganbaatar as “last man standing” in politics, etc.) who may vote or not. This is the first factor where turnout will matter greatly and have an impact on the likelihood of a second round.

With Battulga things seem more complicated. It seems like former PM Amarjargal was actually able to generate a lot of support in the party as a potential candidate but – in the end – was not nominated, perhaps because of doubts about finances for the campaign. Battulga has always been a somewhat divisive figure in the party and as a faction leader can probably not count on the firm support of all core DP members. That reduces his likely result in a low-turnout election. But if turnout is high (implying that undecided voters and non-voters are showing up in some numbers) Battulga may attract a fair number of votes that are nervous about a complete MPP rout of all elections, and of populist protest votes.

It seems unlikely that turnout would drop below the required 50% nationwide. But if I am correct that turnout is also required to be above 50% in each polling station, there may be some chance that this won’t be reached. In that case, there will be a re-vote a week later, further delaying any official results and thus a (decision about a) second round.

It’s hard to pin low or high turnout to a number, but if turnout rises by some percentage points from 2013, a second round seems likely. If, on the other hand it drops further, Enkhbold’s chances at winning outright increase.

About Julian Dierkes

Julian Dierkes is a sociologist by training (PhD Princeton Univ) and a Mongolist by choice and passion since around 2005. He teaches in the Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. He tweets @jdierkes
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