The Brennan-Lomasky Test of Expressive Voting: When Impressive Probability Differences Are Meaningless

Posted: 10 Dec 2018

See all articles by J. R. Clark

J. R. Clark

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

Dwight R. Lee

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom

Date Written: September 19, 2018

Abstract

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

Clark, Jeff R. and Lee, Dwight R., The Brennan-Lomasky Test of Expressive Voting: When Impressive Probability Differences Are Meaningless (September 19, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3286004

Jeff R. Clark (Contact Author)

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga ( email )

Department of Economics
Suite 313 Fletcher Hall
Chattanooga, TN 37403-2598
United States

Dwight R. Lee

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - O’Neil Center for Global Markets and Freedom ( email )

United States

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