The Brennan-Lomasky Test of Expressive Voting: When Impressive Probability Differences Are Meaningless
Posted: 10 Dec 2018
Date Written: September 19, 2018
We consider a test of expressive voting developed by Brennan and Lomasky (1993). They point out that in presidential elections the probability of a tie, and casting a decisive vote, increases “multi-billionfold” as the election becomes increasingly close. They conjecture that if voters are instrumentally motivated there would be enormous increases in voter turnout for presidential elections as they became close. When they find no consistent relationship between closeness and turnout in presidential elections since 1940, they conclude their test justifies a “decisive rejection of the instrumental voter hypothesis.” As dramatic as such a “multi-billionfold” increase is, we argue it would not motivate voting if an instrumental payoff was the only motivation for doing so.The Brennan–Lomasky test does give the correct result, but not for the reason they emphasize.They do see reasons why voting turnout would be moderated other than the dramatic probability of a decisive vote in close elections. Furthermore, they close their test by indicating that one reason turnout might be higher in close elections is that they are more interesting, which is congenial to an expressive account. We agree. We also argue that the observed tendency for voters to confirm their biases rather than change their minds provides additional support for expressive voting.
Keywords: expressive voting, instrumental voting, voter turnout, rational voter apathy, rational ignorance, confirmation bias
JEL Classification: D70, D72, H00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation