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The Paradox of Not Voting: A Decision Theoretic Analysis


  • Ferejohn, John A.
  • Fiorina, Morris P.


Various analysts have noted that the decision to vote in mass elections is difficult to justify from the standpoint of an expected utility maximization model. Put simply, the probability that a citizen's vote will affect the outcome is so small that the expected gains from voting are outweighed by the costs in time and effort. Such analyses treat rational behavior as synonymous with expected utility maximization. In this paper we show that an alternative criterion for decision making under uncertainty, minimax regret, specifies voting under quite general conditions. Both two and three candidate plurality elections are considered. Interestingly, a minimax regret decision maker never votes for his second choice in a three candidate election, whereas expected utility maximizers clearly may. Thus, the model proposed has implications for candidate choice as well as turnout.

Suggested Citation

  • Ferejohn, John A. & Fiorina, Morris P., 1974. "The Paradox of Not Voting: A Decision Theoretic Analysis," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(2), pages 525-536, June.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:68:y:1974:i:02:p:525-536_11

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