Gherghina, S. , Mișcoiu, S. and Tap, P. (2023) Using the pandemic as a pretext: voter absenteeism in the 2020 elections in Romania. Communist and Post-Communist Studies.

One of the most visible effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is on voter turnout. Earlier research concludes that the pandemic depresses turnout by looking at statistical patterns and testing the explanatory power of pandemic casualties against alternative causes. Based on the existing results, we only assume that the pandemic was related to depressing turnout but we do not know if that happened. In this sense, there is limited attention paid to people’s perspectives. This article addresses this gap in the literature and analyzes the importance of the pandemic for absenteeism through the eyes of (non)voters. It focuses on Romania, a country with a particularly low turnout in the 2020 national elections compared to the previous elections. The analysis uses 21 semi-structured interviews conducted with persons with a different sociodemographic profile who voted in 2016 but did not vote in 2020. We use inductive thematic analysis to identify the reasons behind their absenteeism. The main findings reveal that the main reasons for absenteeism are rooted in voters’ long-term attitudes toward the political system and elections. The COVID-19 pandemic did not appear to influence people’s absenteeism, but was sometimes used mainly as a pretext to stay at home.