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A Paradox of Voter Participation? A Laboratory Study

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  • Levine, David
  • Palfrey, Thomas

Abstract

It is widely believed that rational choice theory is grossly inconsistent with empirical observations about voter turnout. We report the results of an experiment designed to test the voter turnout predictions of the rational choice Palfrey-Rosenthal model of participation with asymmetric information. We find that the three main comparative statics predictions are observed in the data: the size effect, whereby turnout goes down in larger electorates; the competition effect, whereby turnout is higher in elections that are expected to be close; and the underdog effect, whereby voters supporting the less popular alternative have higher turnout rates. We also compare the quantitative magnitudes of turnout to the predictions of Nash equilibrium. We find that there is under-voting for small electorates and overvoting for large electorates, relative to Nash equilibrium. These deviations from Nash equilibrium are consistent with the logit equilibrium, which provides a good fit to the data.

Suggested Citation

  • Levine, David & Palfrey, Thomas, 2005. "A Paradox of Voter Participation? A Laboratory Study," Papers 09-19-2005a, Princeton University, Research Program in Political Economy.
  • Handle: RePEc:ecl:prirpe:09-19-2005a
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    1. El-Gamal, Mahmoud A. & Grether, David M., 1995. "Are People Bayesian? Uncovering Behavioral Strategies," Working Papers 919, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
    2. Anthony Downs, 1957. "An Economic Theory of Political Action in a Democracy," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 65, pages 135-135.
    3. Cason, Timothy N. & Mui, Vai-Lam, 2005. "Uncertainty and resistance to reform in laboratory participation games," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 708-737, September.
    4. Thomas Palfrey & Howard Rosenthal, 1983. "A strategic calculus of voting," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 41(1), pages 7-53, January.
    5. Schram, Arthur & van Winden, Frans, 1991. "Why people vote : Free riding and the production and consumption of social pressure," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 12(4), pages 575-620, December.
    6. Casella, Alessandra, 2005. "Storable votes," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 51(2), pages 391-419, May.
    7. Palfrey, Thomas R & Prisbrey, Jeffrey E, 1997. "Anomalous Behavior in Public Goods Experiments: How Much and Why?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(5), pages 829-846, December.
    8. Stephen Coate & Michael Conlin, 2004. "A Group Rule–Utilitarian Approach to Voter Turnout: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(5), pages 1476-1504, December.
    9. Schram, Arthur & Sonnemans, Joep, 1996. "Voter Turnout as a Participation Game: An Experimental Investigation," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 25(3), pages 385-406.
    10. repec:cup:apsrev:v:99:y:2005:i:02:p:201-213_05 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Schram, Arthur & Sonnemans, Joep, 1996. "Why people vote: Experimental evidence," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 17(4), pages 417-442, August.
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