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Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others

Author

Listed:
  • Aaron Edlin
  • Andrew Gelman
  • Noah Kaplan

Abstract

For voters with "social" preferences, the expected utility of voting is approximately independent of the size of the electorate, suggesting that rational voter turnouts can be substantial even in large elections. Less important elections are predicted to have lower turnout, but a feedback mechanism keeps turnout at a reasonable level under a wide range of conditions. The main contributions of this paper are: (1) to show how, for an individual with both selfish and social preferences, the social preferences will dominate and make it rational for a typical person to vote even in large elections;(2) to show that rational socially-motivated voting has a feedback mechanism that stabilizes turnout at reasonable levels (e.g., 50% of the electorate); (3) to link the rational social-utility model of voter turnout with survey findings on socially-motivated vote choice.

Suggested Citation

  • 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.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:13562
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Alvarez, R. Michael & Nagler, Jonathan, 2000. "A New Approach for Modelling Strategic Voting in Multiparty Elections," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 30(1), pages 57-75, January.
    2. Bendor, Jonathan & Diermeier, Daniel & Ting, Michael M., 2000. "A Behavioral Model of Turnout," Research Papers 1627, Stanford University, Graduate School of Business.
    3. 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.
    4. Riker, William H. & Ordeshook, Peter C., 1968. "A Theory of the Calculus of Voting," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(1), pages 25-42, March.
    5. Feddersen, Timothy J & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 1996. "The Swing Voter's Curse," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(3), pages 408-424, June.
    6. 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.
    7. Riker, William H. & Ordeshook, Peter C., 1968. "A Theory of the Calculus of Voting," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 62(1), pages 25-42, March.
    8. Ferejohn, John A. & Fiorina, Morris P., 1974. "The Paradox of Not Voting: A Decision Theoretic Analysis," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 68(2), pages 525-536, June.
    9. John C. Harsanyi, 1955. "Cardinal Welfare, Individualistic Ethics, and Interpersonal Comparisons of Utility," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 63, pages 309-309.
    10. Bendor, Jonathan & Diermeier, Daniel & Ting, Michael, 2003. "A Behavioral Model of Turnout," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 97(2), pages 261-280, May.
    11. Schlozman, Kay Lehman & Verba, Sidney & Brady, Henry E., 1995. "Participation's Not a Paradox: The View from American Activists," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 25(1), pages 1-36, January.
    12. Meehl, Paul E., 1977. "The Selfish Voter Paradox and the Thrown-Away Vote Argument," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 71(1), pages 11-30, March.
    13. Kramer, Gerald H., 1983. "The Ecological Fallacy Revisited: Aggregate- versus Individual-level Findings on Economics and Elections, and Sociotropic Voting," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 77(1), pages 92-111, March.
    14. Gelman, Andrew & Katz, Jonathan N. & Bafumi, Joseph, 2004. "Standard Voting Power Indexes Do Not Work: An Empirical Analysis," British Journal of Political Science, Cambridge University Press, vol. 34(4), pages 657-674, October.
    15. Yoram Barzel & Eugene Silberberg, 1973. "Is the act of voting rational?," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 16(1), pages 51-58, September.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H0 - Public Economics - - General
    • K21 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Antitrust Law

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