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Evolution & voting : how nature makes us public spirited

  • Conley, John P.
  • Toossi, Ali
  • Wooders, Myrna

We reconsider the classic puzzle of why election turnouts are persistently so high even though formal analysis strongly suggests that rational agents should not vote. If we assume that voters are not making systematic mistakes, the most plausible explanation seems to be that agents receive benefits from the act of voting itself. This is very close to assuming the answer, however, and immediately begs the question of why agents feel a warm glow from participating in the electoral process. In this paper, we approach the question from an evolutionary standpoint. We show for a range of situations, that public-spirited agents have an evolutionary advantage over those who are not as public-spirited. We also explore conditions under which this kind of altruistic behavior is disadvantageous to agents. The details depend on the costs of voting, the degree to which different types of agents have different preferences over public policies and the relative proportions of various preference types in the population, but we conclude that evolution may often be a force that causes agents to internalize the benefits their actions

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Paper provided by University of Warwick, Department of Economics in its series The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) with number 601.

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Length: 36 pages
Date of creation: 2001
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:wrk:warwec:601
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  10. repec:att:wimass:9406 is not listed on IDEAS
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  14. Eshel, I. & Samuelson, L. & Shaked, A., 1996. "Altruists, Egoists and Hooligans in a Local Interaction Model," Working papers 9612r, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  15. John P. Conley & Akram Temimi, 2001. "Endogenous Enfranchisement When Groups' Preferences Conflict," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 79-102, February.
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  18. DeMichelis, Stefano & Dhillon, Amrita, 2001. "Learning in elections and voter turnout equilibria," The Warwick Economics Research Paper Series (TWERPS) 608, University of Warwick, Department of Economics.
  19. Ted Bergstrom & Oded Stark, . "How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment," Papers _024, University of Michigan, Department of Economics.
  20. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 1-52, April.
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