Dissertation abstract: Voting in the laboratory
Almost every week national elections are held somewhere in the world. Many more elections take place at federal and local levels of government. Surely, these are important events to many of us. This thesis aims at providing a better understanding of why and how people vote in elections. Three original modifications of Palfrey and Rosenthal’s (1983) participation game are used to study voter turnout theoretically and experimentally. 1 In the basic game, each voter supports (i.e., prefers) one of two exogenous candidates and privately decides between voting at a cost and abstaining (without costs). The candidate who receives more votes wins the election (ties are broken randomly) and each supporter of this candidate receives an equal reward, independent of whether or not she voted. The first study (published in the American Political Science Review 100, pp. 235–248) analyzes the effects of social embeddedness on turnout, assuming that voters may be influenced by observing the decisions of other voters around them (e.g., a family or working place). Our experimental results show that the social context matters: this information increases turnout by more than 50%. The increase is greater when neighbors support the same candidate rather than when they support opponents. The second study investigates the effects of public opinion polls on voter turnout and welfare. Poll releases resolve uncertainty about the level of support for each candidate caused by `floating’ voters, whose preferences change across elections. This information increases turnout in the laboratory by 28–34%, depending on the fraction of floating voters in the electorate. If polls indicate equal levels of support for both candidates—in which case aggregate benefits for society are not affected by the outcome—welfare decreases substantially due to costs from excessive turnout. In the final study, elections are preceded by the competition between two candidates: they simultaneously announce binding policy offers in which some voters can be favored at the expense of others through inclusion and exclusion in budget expenditure (Myerson 1993). 2 We observe that policy offers include 33% more voters—yielding a smaller budget share for each—when voting is compulsory rather than voluntary. Moreover, we find evidence of political bonds between voters and long-lived parties. Overall, in all three experiments many subjects strongly react to economic incentives (i.e., benefits, costs, and informational clues), often in line with what is observed outside of the laboratory. Copyright Economic Science Association 2007
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