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Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others

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  • Aaron Edlin
  • Andrew Gelman
  • Noah Kaplan

Abstract

For voters with "social" preferences, the expected utility of voting is approximately independent of the size of the electorate, suggesting that rational voter turnouts can be substantial even in large elections. Less important elections are predicted to have lower turnout, but a feedback mechanism keeps turnout at a reasonable level under a wide range of conditions. The main contributions of this paper are: (1) to show how, for an individual with both selfish and social preferences, the social preferences will dominate and make it rational for a typical person to vote even in large elections;(2) to show that rational socially-motivated voting has a feedback mechanism that stabilizes turnout at reasonable levels (e.g., 50% of the electorate); (3) to link the rational social-utility model of voter turnout with survey findings on socially-motivated vote choice.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 13562.

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Date of creation: Oct 2007
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Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13562

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  1. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-24, June.
  2. Yoram Barzel & Eugene Silberberg, 1973. "Is the act of voting rational?," Public Choice, Springer, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 51-58, September.
  3. Casey B. Mulligan & Charles G. Hunter, 2001. "The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," NBER Working Papers, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc 8590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Chamberlain, Gary & Rothschild, Michael, 1981. "A note on the probability of casting a decisive vote," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 152-162, August.
  5. Gelman, Andrew & Katz, Jonathan N. & Bafumi, Joseph, 2002. "Standard Voting Power Indexes Don't Work: An Empirical Analysis," Working Papers, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences 1133, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  6. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
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Cited by:
  1. Joan Esteban & Debraj Ray, 2011. "Linking Conflict to Inequality and Polarization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 101(4), pages 1345-74, June.
  2. Joseph McMurray, 2008. "Information and Voting: the Wisdom of the Experts versus the Wisdom of the Masses," Wallis Working Papers, University of Rochester - Wallis Institute of Political Economy WP59, University of Rochester - Wallis Institute of Political Economy.
  3. Marco Faravelli & Randall Walsh, 2011. "Smooth Politicians And Paternalistic Voters: A Theory Of Large Elections," Levine's Working Paper Archive, David K. Levine 786969000000000250, David K. Levine.
  4. Mwangi S. Kimenyi & Roxana Gutierrez Romero, 2008. "Identity, Grievances, and Economic Determinants of Voting in the 2007 Kenyan Elections," Working papers, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics 2008-38, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics.
  5. Avi Ben-Bassat & Momi Dahan, 2012. "Social identity and voting behavior," Public Choice, Springer, Springer, vol. 151(1), pages 193-214, April.
  6. Andrew Gelman & Nate Silver & Aaron Edlin, 2009. "What is the probability your vote will make a difference?," NBER Working Papers, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc 15220, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Jorge Andrés Gallego, 2007. "La reciprocidad y la paradoja del votante," Revista de Economía Institucional, Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Economía, Universidad Externado de Colombia - Facultad de Economía, vol. 9(16), pages 149-188, January-J.
  8. Ozgur Evren, 2009. "Altruism, Turnout and Strategic Voting Behavior," Levine's Working Paper Archive, David K. Levine 814577000000000309, David K. Levine.
  9. Emir Kamenica & Louisa Egan Brad, 2014. "Voters, dictators, and peons: expressive voting and pivotality," Public Choice, Springer, Springer, vol. 159(1), pages 159-176, April.
  10. Dan Usher, 2011. "An Alternative Explanation of the Chance of Casting a Pivotal Vote," Working Papers, Queen's University, Department of Economics 1238, Queen's University, Department of Economics.
  11. Ján Palguta, 2011. "Voting Experiments: Measuring Vulnerability of Voting Procedures to Manipulation," Czech Economic Review, Charles University Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Economic Studies, Charles University Prague, Faculty of Social Sciences, Institute of Economic Studies, vol. 5(3), pages 324-345, November.
  12. R. I. Luttens & M.A. Valfort, 2008. "Voting for redistribution under desert-sensitive altruism," Working Papers of Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration 08/531, Ghent University, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration.
  13. Adam Pigoń, 2013. "What Affects Voter Turnout? Macro and Micro Evidence from Poland," Collegium of Economic Analysis Annals, Warsaw School of Economics, Collegium of Economic Analysis, Warsaw School of Economics, Collegium of Economic Analysis, issue 32, pages 77-105.
  14. Özgür Evren, 2012. "Altruism and Voting: A Large-Turnout Result That Does not Rely on Civic Duty or Cooperative Behavior," Working Papers, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR) w0173, Center for Economic and Financial Research (CEFIR).
  15. Pedro Robalo & Arthur Schram & Joep Sonnemans, 2013. "Other-regarding Preferences, Group Identity and Political Participation: An Experiment," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers, Tinbergen Institute 13-079/I, Tinbergen Institute.
  16. Janne Tukiainen & Teemu Lyytikäinen, 2013. "Voters are rational," Working Papers, Government Institute for Economic Research Finland (VATT) 50, Government Institute for Economic Research Finland (VATT).

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