IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument


  • Meehl, Paul E.


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

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    File Function: link to article abstract page
    Download Restriction: no


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    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.

    More about this item


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:71:y:1977:i:01:p:11-30_25. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Keith Waters). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.