IDEAS home Printed from https://ideas.repec.org/p/har/wpaper/0025.html
   My bibliography  Save this paper

The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote

Author

Listed:
  • Casey B. Mulligan
  • Charles G. Hunter

Abstract

Empirical distributions of election margins are computing using data on 16,577 U.S. Congressional and 40,036 state legislator election returns. One of every 100,000 votes cast in U.S. elections, and one of every 15,000 votes cast in state elections, "mattered" in the sense that they were cast for a candidate that officially tied or won by one vote. Very close elections are more rare than a binomial model predicts. The evidence also suggests that recounts, and other margin-specific election procedures, are quite relevant determinants of the frequency of a pivotal vote. Although moderately close elections (winning margin of less than ten percentage points) are more common than landslides, the distribution of moderately close U.S. election margins is approximately uniform. In contrast, the distribution of state legislature election margins is clearly monotonic, with closer margins more likely, except for very close and very lopsided elections. The frequency of one vote elections is compared with total votes, and with the frequencies suggested by some theoretical models of voting. Roughly one of every 30,000 elections with 100,000 votes are decided by one vote. For elections with 5,000 or 20,000 votes, the frequencies are 1/1500 or 1/6000, respectively. This inverse relationship between election size and the frequency of one vote margins is found in two data sets over a wide range of election sizes, with the exception of the smallest U.S. elections for which the frequency increases with election size.

Suggested Citation

  • Casey B. Mulligan & Charles G. Hunter, 2000. "The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," Working Papers 0025, Harris School of Public Policy Studies, University of Chicago.
  • Handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0025
    as

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL: http://harrisschool.uchicago.edu/about/publications/working-papers/pdf/wp_00_25.pdf
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & José A. Scheinkman, 1996. "Crime and Social Interactions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 111(2), pages 507-548.
    2. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-424, June.
    3. Chamberlain, Gary & Rothschild, Michael, 1981. "A note on the probability of casting a decisive vote," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 25(1), pages 152-162, August.
    4. Howard Margolis, 1977. "Probability of a tie election," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 31(1), pages 135-138, September.
    5. Fischer, A J, 1999. "The Probability of Being Decisive," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 101(3-4), pages 267-283, December.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

    Citations

    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.
    as


    Cited by:

    1. Tyran, Jean-Robert & Sausgruber, Rupert, 2006. "A little fairness may induce a lot of redistribution in democracy," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 50(2), pages 469-485, February.
    2. Andrew Leigh, 2009. "Does the World Economy Swing National Elections?," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 71(2), pages 163-181, April.
    3. Amrita Dillon & GANI ALDASHEV, 2015. "Voter Turnout and Political Rents," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 17(4), pages 528-552, August.
    4. Darren Grant & Michael Toma, 2008. "Elemental tests of the traditional rational voting model," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 137(1), pages 173-195, October.
    5. Brad R. Taylor, 2016. "Exit and the Epistemic Quality of Voice," Economic Affairs, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 36(2), pages 133-144, June.
    6. John Maloney & Andrew Pickering, 2008. "Ideology, Competence and Luck: What determines general election results?," Bristol Economics Discussion Papers 08/607, Department of Economics, University of Bristol, UK.
    7. repec:kap:pubcho:v:172:y:2017:i:1:d:10.1007_s11127-017-0412-5 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Alan Gerber & Mitchell Hoffman & John Morgan & Collin Raymond, 2017. "One in a Million: Field Experiments on Perceived Closeness of the Election and Voter Turnout," NBER Working Papers 23071, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. David K Levine & Andrea Mattozzi, 2016. "Voter Participation with Collusive Parties," Levine's Working Paper Archive 786969000000001234, David K. Levine.
    10. Lyytikäinen, Teemu & Tukiainen, Janne, 2013. "Are Voters Rational?," Working Papers 50, VATT Institute for Economic Research.
    11. 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.
    12. Ozgur Evren, 2009. "Altruism, Turnout and Strategic Voting Behavior," Levine's Working Paper Archive 814577000000000309, David K. Levine.
    13. Andrew Gelman & Nate Silver & Aaron Edlin, 2009. "What is the probability your vote will make a difference?," NBER Working Papers 15220, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    14. Eric Crampton & Andrew Farrant, 2004. "Expressive and Instrumental Voting: The Scylla and Charybdis of Constitutional Political Economy," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 15(1), pages 77-88, March.
    15. Stefano Demichelis & Amrita Dhillon, 2010. "Learning in Elections and Voter Turnout," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 12(5), pages 871-896, October.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    election; voting; frequency; pivotal vote;

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior

    Statistics

    Access and download statistics

    Corrections

    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:har:wpaper:0025. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Eleanor Cartelli). General contact details of provider: http://edirc.repec.org/data/spuchus.html .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.