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Follow The Leader: Theory And Evidence On Political Participation


  • Barry Nalebuff

    (School of Management)

  • Roni Shachar

    (The Eitan Berglas School of Economics)


This paper presents an empirical and theoretical investigation of the strategic components to political participation. Using state-by-state voting data for the eleven U.S. Presidential elections, 1948-1988, we first show that voter turnout is a positive function of predicted closeness and a negative function of the voting population size. We then develop a follow-the-leader model of political participation to explain and to impose structure on these empirical regularities. In the model, leaders expend effort according to their chance of being pivotal, which depends on the expected closeness of the race (at both the state and national levels), its unpredictability, the number of eligible voters, and the rationally anticipated turnout in response to effort by leaders. Returning to the data with structural estimation shows that closeness counts: a one percent increase in the predicted closeness at the state level increases turnout by 0.34 percent. Through simulations, we calculate the chance that each state is pivotal in the national elections. This national closeness effect is significant in explaining effort and participation. Winning the national election is worth thirteen times the value of winning the state. However, since the average chance of a state being pivotal is small, in 96 percent of the observations the value of winning the state had a larger net impact on motivating effort. As a test of the model, we compare our effort variable with National Election Studies data on the proportion of individuals contacted by campaign representatives. Although our effort variable is inferred from the equilibrium model and thus is estimated without using direct data on campaign effort levels, it is significantly correlated with party contact.

Suggested Citation

  • Barry Nalebuff & Roni Shachar, 1997. "Follow The Leader: Theory And Evidence On Political Participation," Yale School of Management Working Papers ysm57, Yale School of Management.
  • Handle: RePEc:ysm:somwrk:ysm57

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    JEL classification:

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


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