What are the effects of the economic crisis on electoral turnout? Existing studies on participation focus almost exclusively on the losers of the crisis when addressing this question, i.e. voters with low socio‐economic resources. Thereby, they overlook that in countries that have been hit hard by the crisis, turnout has declined substantially among the highly skilled citizens. Neither resource‐ nor conflict‐theory of political participation can account for this.
In this paper, we propose a new explanation: anticipation of government inefficacy. Where economic austerity constrains governments, highly educated citizens with the necessary political knowledge and sophistication anticipate the inefficacy of the future government and they factor this knowledge in when deciding about electoral participation. Therefore, the positive effects of education on turnout decline with increasing international and domestic austerity constraints. We provide cross‐sectional and longitudinal evidence for this argument on the basis of ESS data between 2006 and 2012, as well as different measures of government constraint in 28 European countries.