« Dr. Boks and the Rational Toilet | Main | Price Discrimination in the Parking Lot »

October 02, 2004


Chris Silvey

I agree hole-heartedly. In a state like California or New York (the two places I have the choice to vote in this year) the decision has already been made and my vote doesn't matter. I, too, am not voting for the first time ever. It is a rational choice by economic and dictionary definitions of the word.

Chris Silvey

pun intended


In my case, I voted in order to gain residency in Cal. Usually I end up voting because I detest one candidate so much that I place value on the fact and margin of his defeat. Yes, the marginal effect is not much but I have strange preferences. I particularly enjoy watching political beat-downs occur like last year's Cal. recall. A 51-49 victory just isn't as satisfying as 59-41.

This year I am considering leaving the president blank, but I haven't decided yet. I detest one major candidate and dislike all the others. Here in Cal, my vote wouldn't really matter much except in the popular tallies. Even the downticket candidates here seem particularly blah this year. There are reams of stupid propositions that I'd like to see defeated, so maybe I'll turn out for those.

At least I no longer live in Illinois, where I may as well give up voting for Senate too. Keyes is very interesting in person but I wouldn't want him legislating.

Phil, I wouldn't call voting irrational by any stretch. We as economists just haven't specified people's preferences correctly. That's one problem with doing models in general; there's an infinite hyperspace of possible preferences, some of them really weird. But the alternative to modelling is anarchy or (worse) the kind of stuff that Galbraith did.

That said, I've had this same argument with my friends. Those of us who are economists and engineers see the issue as reducing noise in the outcomes of elections. My other friends see voting as intrinsically good no matter what kind of outcome results. Maybe people's strongly held opinions about this can offer up a clue why so many people vote. I'm inclined to think that this involves the same phenomenon where people value charity or civic involvement without regard to the results. Explains a lot of government spending too.

I'm convinced that people operate under a labor theory of value for these sorts of things. Why else would rich people volunteer in soup kitchens? Asking these questions sort of leads one into amateur evolutionary biology pretty quickly.


Hi Chris and Chris...

So others are thinking about not voting! Interesting. Will be interesting to see if we have low voter turn out and what message the pols take from this. My proposed bumper sticker:

Nobody does it Better
Vote for NOBODY, Nov. 04.

I agree, Chris S, I find it really annoying being a Californian. We don't even get to particpate in the primaries in a meaningful way. Iowa decides who the candidate is. How fair is that?

Chris R., I do agree with you that voting isn't irrational in the sense of, say, violating transitivity or other axioms. I'm poking fun at economists in the post. (I write about preferences for civic participation that make voting rational in the old post "Attacking Edgie's Tax Attacks".)

Most of us do get utility from engaging in the process, even though our vote doesn't even influence the margins of victory in any discernable way. (What are the chances that my vote kicks the total over the rounding point and determines whether the total is reported to be 57-43 or 58-42?)

In this race I want to engage in the process by telling the Republicans they have to nominate someone more fiscally responsible and the Democrats they have to nominate someone whose supposed "nuanced" thinking doesn't look exactly like intellectual cowardice.

Not voting is an expression of my involvement.


Phil, I have the same issues with the candidates that you do, and I agree that having Iowa and New Hampshire pick them is kind of strange. If only there were a decent "none of the above" option. Is it too late for both parties to pull a Toricelli?

Kevin Brancato

I last voted in 00, and remember the buzz (high?) I got when I pulled the lever, having studied the candidates' positions, and knowing my vote was irrelevant anyway.

IMHO--which is the only opinion relevant here--voting IS rational for me, not because of some pathetic social duty, but because of that fine irrational buzz it'll deliver.



Works for me, Kevin. Here's to the irrational buzz.

The comments to this entry are closed.