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The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument

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  • Meehl, Paul E.

Abstract

The probability that an individual's voting in a presidential election will determine the outcome being negligible, it is argued that participation is irrational if predicated on principles that are either egocentric or act-prospective. Voter participation, if rational, must rely on some over-arching principle that is (a) Sociotropic, (b) Axionomic, (c) Collective-distributive, and (d) Neutrofactual. A distinctively ethical component must be involved, such that all purely “economic,†“cost-benefit†models postulating selfish voter rationality are incoherent. The notion of “helping†to elect one's candidate is criticized and rejected unless formulated in a special way. An important pragmatic consequence of the analysis is that the idea (relied on by the two major parties) of “wasting one's vote†on a third party candidate is shown to be invalid or of more limited application than generally assumed. If a sizeable minority (e.g., college students) were educated to reject that argument, politics might be profoundly affected.

Suggested Citation

  • Meehl, Paul E., 1977. "The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(1), pages 11-30, March.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:71:y:1977:i:01:p:11-30_25
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    Cited by:

    1. Sören Enkelmann, 2014. "Government popularity and the economy: first evidence from German microdata," Empirical Economics, Springer, vol. 46(3), pages 999-1017, May.
    2. David Goetze & Peter Galderisi, 1989. "Explaining collective action with rational models," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 62(1), pages 25-39, July.
    3. Thomas Palfrey & Howard Rosenthal, 1983. "A strategic calculus of voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 7-53, January.
    4. Eric Dubois & François Facchini & Abel François & Martial Foucault, 2009. "Un modèle explicatif du vote FNSEA aux élections des représentants des chefs d’exploitation aux Chambres d’Agriculture départementales 1995 – 2001," Post-Print hal-01286756, HAL.
    5. Gustavo Gouvêa Maciel & Luís de Sousa, 2018. "Legal Corruption and Dissatisfaction with Democracy in the European Union," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 140(2), pages 653-674, November.
    6. Thomas Schwartz, 1987. "Your vote counts on account of the way it is counted: An institutional solution to the paradox of not voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 54(2), pages 101-121, January.
    7. Aaron Edlin & Andrew Gelman & Noah Kaplan, 2007. "Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others," NBER Working Papers 13562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    8. Mudambi, Ram & Navarra, Pietro, 2004. "Electoral strategies in mixed systems of representation," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 20(1), pages 227-253, March.
    9. Edlin, Aaron & Gelman, Andrew & Kaplan, Noah, 2008. "Voting as a Rational Choice," Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics, Working Paper Series qt0x3780rb, Berkeley Olin Program in Law & Economics.

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