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A Behavioral Model of Turnout

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  • BENDOR, JONATHAN
  • DIERMEIER, DANIEL
  • TING, MICHAEL

Abstract

The so-called “paradox of voting†is a major anomaly for rational choice theories of elections. If voting is costly and citizens are rational, then in large electrorates the expected turnout would be small, for if many people voted the chance of anyone being pivotal would be too small to make the act worthwhile. Yet many people do vote, even in large national elections. To address this puzzle we construct a model of adaptive rationality: Citizens learn by simple trial and error, repeating satisfactory actions and avoiding unsatisfactory ones. (Their aspiration levels, which code current payoffs as satisfactory or unsatisfactory, are also endogenous, themselves adjusting to experience.) Our main result is that agents who adapt in this manner turn out in substantial numbers even in large electorates and even if voting is costly for everyone.Standard conceptions of rational behavior do not explain why anyone bothers to vote in a mass election…. [Turnout is] the paradox that ate rational choice theory.Fiorina (1990, 334)We would like to thank Stephen Ansolabehere, Sorin Antohi, Glenn Ellison, Dedre Gentner, Sunil Kumar, David Laitin, Tze Lai, Arthur Lupia, Elijah Millgram, Lincoln Moses, Scott Page, Tom Palfrey, John Patty, Paul Pfleiderer, Adam Simon, Joel Sobel, Carole Uhlaner, three anonymous referees, and the participants in the Political Economics seminar at the GSB, the Stanford–CalTech workshop, the UNC American Politics Research Group, the UCLA conference on Cognition, Emotion, and Rational Choice, panels at the Annual Meetings of the MPSA and the APSA, the Agent 2000 Workshop, the Seventh Annual Wallis Conference, the CMU–Pitt Colloquium Series, and the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences seminar series for their helpful comments. This paper was written while Ting was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he thanks UNC's Department of Political Science for its support. It was revised while Bendor was a Fellow at the CASBS, and he is grateful for the Center's financial and intellectual support.

Suggested Citation

  • Bendor, Jonathan & Diermeier, Daniel & Ting, Michael, 2003. "A Behavioral Model of Turnout," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 97(2), pages 261-280, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:cup:apsrev:v:97:y:2003:i:02:p:261-280_00
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Julio Rotemberg, 2009. "Attitude-dependent altruism, turnout and voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 140(1), pages 223-244, July.
    2. Luís Aguiar-Conraria & Pedro Magalhães, 2010. "Referendum design, quorum rules and turnout," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 144(1), pages 63-81, July.
    3. Serge Blondel & Louis Lévy-garboua, 2011. "Can non-expected utility theories explain the paradox of not voting?," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 31(4), pages 3158-3168.
    4. Duffy, John, 2006. "Agent-Based Models and Human Subject Experiments," Handbook of Computational Economics, in: Leigh Tesfatsion & Kenneth L. Judd (ed.), Handbook of Computational Economics, edition 1, volume 2, chapter 19, pages 949-1011, Elsevier.
    5. Daniel D. Bonneau & John Zaleski, 2021. "The effect of California’s top-two primary system on voter turnout in US House Elections," Economics of Governance, Springer, vol. 22(1), pages 1-21, March.
    6. Nadia Fiorino & Nicola Pontarollo & Roberto Ricciuti, 2019. "Supranational, National and Local Dimensions of Voter Turnout in European Parliament Elections," Journal of Common Market Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 57(4), pages 877-893, July.
    7. Martorana, Marco F. & Mazza, Isidoro, 2012. "Adaptive voting: an empirical analysis of participation and choice," MPRA Paper 36165, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    8. Martorana, Marco Ferdinando, 2011. "Voting Behaviour in a dynamic perspective: a survey," MPRA Paper 37592, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    9. Martorana, Marco & Mazza, Isidoro, 2010. "Satisfaction and adaptation in voting behavior: an empirical exploration," DEMQ Working Paper Series 2010/6, University of Catania, Department of Economics and Quantitative Methods.
    10. Michael Haman, 2021. "Recall Elections: A Tool of Accountability? Evidence from Peru," Revista Desarrollo y Sociedad, Universidad de los Andes - CEDE, vol. 87(3), March.
    11. Garmann, Sebastian, 2017. "Election frequency, choice fatigue, and voter turnout," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 47(C), pages 19-35.
    12. Sebastian Garmann, 2020. "Political efficacy and the persistence of turnout shocks," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 32(3), pages 411-429, November.
    13. Bednar, Jenna & Jones-Rooy, Andrea & Page, Scott E., 2015. "Choosing a future based on the past: Institutions, behavior, and path dependence," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 40(PB), pages 312-332.
    14. Thomas Fujiwara & Carlos Sanz, 2017. "Norms in bargaining: evidence from government formation in Spain," Working Papers 1741, Banco de España.
    15. Panova, Elena, 2015. "A passion for voting," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 90(C), pages 44-65.
    16. John Duffy & Margit Tavits, 2008. "Beliefs and Voting Decisions: A Test of the Pivotal Voter Model," American Journal of Political Science, John Wiley & Sons, vol. 52(3), pages 603-618, July.
    17. Landi, M. & Sodini, M., 2012. "An evolutionary analysis of turnout with conformist citizens," Journal of Economic Dynamics and Control, Elsevier, vol. 36(10), pages 1431-1447.
    18. Kim, Duk Gyoo, 2018. "Population uncertainty in voluntary contributions of public goods," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 145(C), pages 218-231.
    19. Youzong Xu, 2019. "Collective decision-making of voters with heterogeneous levels of rationality," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 178(1), pages 267-287, January.
    20. 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.
    21. Guney, Begum & Richter, Michael & Tsur, Matan, 2018. "Aspiration-based choice," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 176(C), pages 935-956.

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