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

22 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2007  

Aaron S. Edlin

University of California at Berkeley; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Andrew Gelman

Columbia University - Department of Statistics and Department of Political Science

Noah Kaplan

University of Houston - Department of Political Science

Date Written: October 2007

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

Edlin, Aaron S. and Gelman, Andrew and Kaplan, Noah, Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others (October 2007). NBER Working Paper No. w13562. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1024976

Aaron S. Edlin (Contact Author)

University of California at Berkeley ( email )

Dept of Economics 549 Evans Hall #3880
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-642-4719 (Phone)
510-643-0413 (Fax)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Andrew Gelman

Columbia University - Department of Statistics and Department of Political Science ( email )

New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-4883 (Phone)
212-663-2454 (Fax)

Noah Kaplan

University of Houston - Department of Political Science ( email )

Houston, TX 77204-3011
United States

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