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To vote or not to vote: The paradox of nonvoting

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  • Guillermo Owen
  • Bernard Grofman

Abstract

One paradox of voting states that, in a general election, in which many citizens vote, the probability that a single voter can affect the outcome is so small that in general citizens have no rational reason for voting. However, if all citizens accept this reasoning, then none will vote, and so each vote has a large probability of affecting the outcome. Hence all should vote after all. The adoption of mixed strategies resolves this paradox: if each citizen adopts a certain (small) probability of voting, then the actual number of citizens voting will be just enough to make it worth those citizens' while to vote. A Nash equilibrium point thus occurs. Here we compute Nash equilibria for the simple case of majority voting; for the more complicated case of composite voting (for example, as in a presidential election), we draw certain qualitative inferences. Copyright Martinus Nijhoff Publishers 1984

Suggested Citation

  • Guillermo Owen & Bernard Grofman, 1984. "To vote or not to vote: The paradox of nonvoting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 42(3), pages 311-325, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:42:y:1984:i:3:p:311-325
    DOI: 10.1007/BF00124949
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Richard Niemi, 1976. "Costs of voting and nonvoting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 115-119, September.
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    5. Riker, William H. & Ordeshook, Peter C., 1968. "A Theory of the Calculus of Voting," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(1), pages 25-42, March.
    6. Melvin Hinich, 1981. "Voting as an act of contribution," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 36(1), pages 135-140, January.
    7. 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.
    8. Nathaniel Beck, 1975. "A note on the probability of a tied election," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 23(1), pages 75-79, September.
    9. Ferejohn, John A. & Fiorina, Morris P., 1975. "Closeness Counts Only in Horseshoes and Dancing," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 69(3), pages 920-925, September.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Serguei Kaniovski & Dennis Mueller, 2006. "Community size, heterogeneity and voter turnouts," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 129(3), pages 399-415, December.
    3. Søberg, Morten & Tangerås, Thomas P., 2003. "Voter Turnout in Direct Democracy: Theory and Evidence," Working Paper Series 596, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    4. Montmarquette, Claude, 1988. "Le marché politique : qu’est-ce qui est produit? Qui y participe? Qui en profite?," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 64(3), pages 336-360, septembre.
    5. Jan Hansen & Carsten Schmidt & Martin Strobel, 2004. "Manipulation in political stock markets - preconditions and evidence," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 11(7), pages 459-463.
    6. Peter Bönisch & Benny Geys & Claus Michelsen, 2015. "David and Goliath in the Poll Booth: Group Size, Voting Power and Voter Turnout," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 1491, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    7. Claus Michelsen & Peter Boenisch & Benny Geys, 2014. "(De)Centralization and voter turnout: theory and evidence from German municipalities," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 159(3), pages 469-483, June.
    8. Barone, Guglielmo & de Blasio, Guido, 2013. "Electoral rules and voter turnout," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 25-35.
    9. Bechtel, Michael M. & Hangartner, Dominik & Schmid, Lukas, 2018. "Compulsory voting, habit formation, and political participation," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 89714, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
    10. Douglas D. Roscoe, 2014. "Yes, Raise My Taxes: Property Tax Cap Override Elections," Social Science Quarterly, Southwestern Social Science Association, vol. 95(1), pages 145-164, March.
    11. Aranson Peter H., 1990. "Rational Ignorance In Politics, Economics And Law," Journal des Economistes et des Etudes Humaines, De Gruyter, vol. 1(1), pages 1-18, January.

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