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Voters are rational

  • Janne Tukiainen
  • Teemu Lyytikäinen

We test whether voters are rational in the sense that their decision to vote depends on its expected impact on the election outcomes. By using exogenous variation in pivotal probabilities that arise at population thresholds determining council sizes in Finnish municipal elections, we provide the first causal evidence on this rational voting hypothesis. We find statistically significant, economically relevant and robust effects of crossing the threshold on turnout. Furthermore, we use a novel instrumental variables design to show that the changes in the pivotal probabilities rather than simultaneous changes in available candidates drive the results. Thus, the rational voter exists.

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Paper provided by Government Institute for Economic Research Finland (VATT) in its series Working Papers with number 50.

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Date of creation: 27 Sep 2013
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Handle: RePEc:fer:wpaper:50
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  1. Mulligan, Casey B & Hunter, Charles G, 2003. " The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 116(1-2), pages 31-54, July.
  2. Fujiwara, Thomas, 2011. "A Regression Discontinuity Test of Strategic Voting and Duverger's Law," Quarterly Journal of Political Science, now publishers, vol. 6(3–4), pages 197-233, November.
  3. Andersen, Jørgen Juel & Fiva, Jon H. & Natvik, Gisle James, 2014. "Voting when the stakes are high," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 110(C), pages 157-166.
  4. Per Pettersson-Lidbom, 2004. "Does the Size of the Legislature Affect the Size of Government? Evidence from Two Natural Experiments," Discussion Papers 350, Government Institute for Economic Research Finland (VATT).
  5. Coate, Stephen & Conlin, Michael & Moro, Andrea, 2008. "The performance of pivotal-voter models in small-scale elections: Evidence from Texas liquor referenda," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(3-4), pages 582-596, April.
  6. David S. Lee & Thomas Lemieux, 2009. "Regression Discontinuity Designs in Economics," NBER Working Papers 14723, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309.
  8. Arianna Degan & Antonio Merlo, 2004. "A Structural Model of Turnout and Voting in Multiple Elections," PIER Working Paper Archive 06-021, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania, revised 01 Aug 2006.
  9. Timothy J. Feddersen & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 1995. "The Swing Voter's Curse," Discussion Papers 1064, Northwestern University, Center for Mathematical Studies in Economics and Management Science.
  10. Matsusaka, John G, 1995. " Explaining Voter Turnout Patterns: An Information Theory," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 84(1-2), pages 91-117, July.
  11. Patricia Funk, 2010. "Social Incentives and Voter Turnout: Evidence from the Swiss Mail Ballot System," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 8(5), pages 1077-1103, 09.
  12. Matsusaka, John G & Palda, Filip, 1999. " Voter Turnout: How Much Can We Explain?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 98(3-4), pages 431-46, March.
  13. Aaron Edlin & Andrew Gelman & Noah Kaplan, 2007. "Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others," NBER Working Papers 13562, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  14. Jon H. Fiva & Olle Folke, 2011. "Mechanical and Psychological Effects of Electoral Reform," CESifo Working Paper Series 3505, CESifo Group Munich.
  15. Levitt, Steven D, 1994. "Using Repeat Challengers to Estimate the Effect of Campaign Spending on Election Outcomes in the U.S. House," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 102(4), pages 777-98, August.
  16. S. Nageeb Ali & Charles Lin, 2013. "Why People Vote: Ethical Motives and Social Incentives," American Economic Journal: Microeconomics, American Economic Association, vol. 5(2), pages 73-98, May.
  17. Stephen Ansolabehere & John M. de Figueiredo & James M. Snyder Jr, 2003. "Why is There so Little Money in U.S. Politics?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 17(1), pages 105-130, Winter.
  18. 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.
  19. McCrary, Justin, 2008. "Manipulation of the running variable in the regression discontinuity design: A density test," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 142(2), pages 698-714, February.
  20. Alan Gerber & Donald Green & Matthew Green, 2003. "Partisan mail and voter turnout: Results from randomized field experiments," Natural Field Experiments 00250, The Field Experiments Website.
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