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Memetics & Voting: How Nature May Make us Public Spirited

Author

Listed:
  • John P. Conley

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

  • Myrna Wooders

    (Department of Economics, Vanderbilt University)

Abstract

We consider the classic puzzle of why people turn out for elections in substantial numbers even though formal analysis strongly suggests that rational agents would not vote. If one assumes that voters do not make systematic mistakes, the most plausible explanation seems to be that agents receive a warm glow from the act of voting itself.ÊÊ However, this begs the question of why agents feel a warm glow from participating in the electoral process in the first place. We approach this question from an memetic standpoint. More specifically, we consider a model in which social norms, ideas, values, or more generally, "memes" influence the behavior of groups of agents, and in turn, induce a kind of competition between value systems. We show for a range of situations that groups with a more public-spirited social norm have an advantage over groupsÊ that are not as public-spirited. We also explore conditions under which the altruistic behavior resulting from public-spiritedness is disadvantageous. The details depend on the costs of voting, the extent to which different types of citizens agree or disagree over the benefits of various public policies, and the relative proportions of various preference types in the population. We conclude that memetic evolution over social norms may be a force that causes individuals to internalize the benefits that their actions confer on others.

Suggested Citation

  • John P. Conley & Myrna Wooders, 2005. "Memetics & Voting: How Nature May Make us Public Spirited," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 0514, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
  • Handle: RePEc:van:wpaper:0514
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Memetics; evolution; voting; warm glow; civic duty; free riding; public choice; public goods;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • C7 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making

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