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What is the probability your vote will make a difference?

  • Andrew Gelman
  • Nate Silver
  • Aaron Edlin

One of the motivations for voting is that one vote can make a difference. In a presidential election, the probability that your vote is decisive is equal to the probability that your state is necessary for an electoral college win, times the probability the vote in your state is tied in that event. We computed these probabilities a week before the 2008 presidential election, using state-by-state election forecasts based on the latest polls. The states where a single vote was most likely to matter are New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, where your vote had an approximate 1 in 10 million chance of determining the national election outcome. On average, a voter in America had a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 15220.

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Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:15220
Note: LE PE
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  1. 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.
  2. Casey B. Mulligan & Charles G. Hunter, 2001. "The Empirical Frequency of a Pivotal Vote," NBER Working Papers 8590, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Gelman, Andrew & Katz, Jonathan N. & Bafumi, Joseph, 2002. "Standard Voting Power Indexes Don't Work: An Empirical Analysis," Working Papers 1133, California Institute of Technology, Division of the Humanities and Social Sciences.
  4. 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.
  5. Douglas Hibbs, 2008. "Implications of the ‘bread and peace’ model for the 2008 US presidential election," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 137(1), pages 1-10, October.
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