The experiences that voters have of elections are pivotal in the democratic experience of citizens. However, there has been relatively few multidirectional theorisations of the nature of this experience and the implications. This article reviews existing canonical approaches to understanding the voter experience which are informed by rational choice theory, behaviouralism and constructivism. It offers an alternative human reflexivity approach which anchors the voter experience in structure-agency relationships using realist social theory. The voter experience is defined as the simultaneous process of gathering and responding to knowledge, perceptions and emotions about the electoral process through observing and (non)participating in electoral activities. The citizen is reflexively situated in this experience and is involved in a process of interpreting, re-interpreting, and responding to stimuli, structures and other actors. Using cross-national data, the article identifies the overall global characteristics of the voter experience around the world. Older and more educated voters tend to have a more positive voter experience. Poor voter experiences are also found to lead to citizens ‘checking out’ of future elections or disengaging from the voting process. The article concludes by setting out the research agenda that arises from the new framework which the special issue takes forward.
- electoral integrity