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Beliefs and Voting Decisions: A Test of the Pivotal Voter Model

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  • John Duffy
  • Margit Tavits

Abstract

We report results from a laboratory experiment testing the basic hypothesis embedded in various rational voter models that there is a direct correlation between the strength of an individual's belief that his or her vote will be pivotal and the likelihood that individual incurs the cost to vote. This belief is typically unobservable. In one of our experimental treatments we elicit these subjective beliefs using a proper scoring rule that induces truthful revelation of beliefs. This allows us to directly test the pivotal voter model. We find that a higher subjective probability of being pivotal increases the likelihood that an individual votes, but the probability thresholds used by subjects are not as crisp as the theory would predict. There is some evidence that individuals learn over time to adjust their beliefs to be more consistent with the historical frequency of pivotality. However, many subjects keep substantially overestimating their probability of being pivotal.

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  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:wly:amposc:v:52:y:2008:i:3:p:603-618
    DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2008.00332.x
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