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Does ‘Civic Duty’ ‘Solve’ The Rational Choice Voter Turnout Puzzle?


  • Robert S. Goldfarb

    (Department of Economics, George Washington University, 2115 G st NW suite 340, Washington DC 20052, USA,

  • Lee Sigelman

    (George Washington University)


Rational choice models of voter turnout try to account for why people vote by including on the ‘benefits’ side of the cost-benefit calculus some term representing either the collective benefits of voting or the satisfaction the individual derives from the very act of voting, a strategy subject to a number of telling criticisms. After a background discussion of three competing perspectives on this rational choice strategy, which we term the ‘accepter,’ ‘yes, but’ and ‘rejecter’ views, we address the following issues. First, how one’s view of ‘rationality’ affects the appropriateness of including ‘satisfaction from voting’ and related concepts in the rational choice model. Second, as a formal analytical matter, can a ‘sense of civic duty to vote’ be comfortably incorporated into the rational choice model of turnout? What other recent related embellishments have been made to that model? Third, even if ‘civic duty’ can be formally incorporated, would this defeat the efficacy of the rational choice model? Fourth, why the answer to the previous question might differ for economists versus political scientists. Fifth, what significant issues are raised by expanding the rational choice model to include civic duty? The analytical contribution of this article is showing how ‘civic duty’ can be incorporated into the rational choice model; the broader conceptual contribution is to evaluate whether and how that innovation advances our understanding of the efficacy of the rational choice approach for understanding voter turnout.

Suggested Citation

  • Robert S. Goldfarb & Lee Sigelman, 2010. "Does ‘Civic Duty’ ‘Solve’ The Rational Choice Voter Turnout Puzzle?," Journal of Theoretical Politics, , vol. 22(3), pages 275-300, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:sae:jothpo:v:22:y:2010:i:3:p:275-300

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    Cited by:

    1. Joseph McMurray, 2015. "The paradox of information and voter turnout," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 165(1), pages 13-23, October.


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