Monday, November 07, 2005

Voting and Rational Ignorance

Here is a seemingly simple question:

Why do people vote?

Voter turnout has been decreasing over the past decades (a little more than half of eligible voters voted in the most recent Presidential election), and one reasonable explanation is from the first chapter in Friedman: rational ignorance. The basic idea is the following: Voting is costly in terms of time. It takes time to actually go out and vote, and it takes even more time if you plan on actually finding out about the candidates. Then combine that with the fact that the probability that your vote will influence the outcome of an election is essentially zero. In fact, according to an article from the guys who wrote Freakonomics,
Of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections...only one election in the past 100 years - a 1910 race in Buffalo - was decided by a single vote.
So as opposed to asking why people are not voting, the better question becomes: why do people vote?

(by no means am I saying that people should not vote, I am just asking what I think is an interesting question that could help reaffirm the choice to vote anyway)

8 comments:

Brian Zabell said...

Well aside from the people who choose not to register to vote to avoid jury duty, it's just that there's not always much interest in national politics.

Some people like myself follow politics very closely. As an example I knew about the Plame incident from the very start. Some people who don't politics as much probably found out about her when Rove's name was officially mentioned a few months ago. But I'd imagine 75% or more of the USA population has never heard of Valerie Plame.

If you're in the majority of the population who don't really understand what's going on in politics except for major crises such as Katrina and the incompetent Brown, then people won't vote. Most people believe (probably rightfully so) that regardless of who is in office, their own individual lives will not change much. If you don't care, why waste your time waiting in line to vote?

The majority of people don't vote because they don't care about politics. The excuse that "their vote won't matter" is a copout.

Bottom line though is that for most people it doesn't matter who's in office, so there's not much incentive to vote.

Gregory Bylos said...

As to why people DO vote, I think it's just that despite these people know their vote may not make a big difference in the big picture, they still want to give their imput. Maybe they realize that if everyone just pretended their vote counted we'd have much more accurate outcomes in terms of who the majority of people want in office.

Maybe people just want to know that no matter the outcome, at least they did their best to give have their views counted. If their candidate wins, they can say that they contributed to that win.

Anonymous said...

I think people vote to show the pride in their country, to show that they participate in the things that are going on. whats the point of democracy if people aren't going to take advantage of it? and if everyone starts thinking "my vote won't count"... votes will start counting.

Also, some people might vote if they are strongly for or against one of the candidates. They will have an incentive to try to not let that person obtain an office
-Kelly Gaetano

Anonymous said...

First, in comment to Brian's comment, I have no idea who Valerie Plame is and I really don't know what's going on in politics, but I'm still going to vote once I turn 18. You do not have to be an expert at politics to know your own views and which candidate supports those views best. Plus, the time it takes to research candidates is not that long. All you have to do is Google it.

In reference to why people vote, I agree with Gregory in that people just want to give their own imput. Also I think people vote because of what Kelly said: to take advantage of our democracy.
-Emily Freebairn

Anonymous said...

First of all, I love politics!! I think that people vote for a number of reasons. I think that the main reason why most people vote is because they want to support the candidate that they feel will represent them the best. As we saw in 2004, people also vote because they strongly dislike one candidate and will vote for anyone who is running against them, even if he or she is not a very good choice. I think that a more idealistic reason why people vote is because our democracy is what makes this country great and we like to take advantage of these rights that we are so lucky to have. People also vote because even if the candidate that they wanted doesn’t win, they still can say that they did everything that they could. Instead of saying “If so and so wins, I’m moving to New Zeland,” which I am guilty of, people who vote really are letting their actions speak louder than their words. (I’m still waiting for Alec Baldwin to leave the country, which he said he would do if Bush won in 2000.) During this past election, I was really annoyed that I was not able to vote for candidates that I really supported, yet many people with the right to vote just chose not to. It was really telling to see how much democracy means to people after the first democratic elections in Iraq. Even though voters faced immense danger, a huge percentage of Iraqis voted and proudly wore black ink on their fingers to show their involvement. I think that it is really sad that many people ignore their right to vote, especially when they don’t face any danger in doing so. I think that voter turn out will increase in coming years because many organizations are trying to launch large voter registration campaigns and stress the importance of having a say in who represents us.

- Jessica Monk

Anonymous said...

you may relate the reason for people not voting to the psychology "bystander effect". People think that if they don't vote it won't really make much of a difference because there are so many other people out there who can contribute their input and vote for their prefered candidate. Those that do, however, have moved past this false assumption, and realized that their vote could make a difference, since there are probably a lot of other people out there thinking that their own vote won't make a difference. Also, as previously pointed out, since citizens of America are given the liberty to vote, they feel that they should not waste this priveledge. Some may often feel guilty for choosing not to vote when many other countries do not allow their citizens any input in governmental affairs. They don't want to be able to be considered as a typical American who takes their lives and liberties for granted.

-Maria Guilbault

jessica wetstone said...

I agree with Maria about her "bystander effect." It is possible that your vote won't make a difference, but if everyone decided that there was no point then the entire system would fail and no one would vote. Like maybe one Walker school senior voting can't make much of a difference, but if every Georgia high school senior voted, they possibly could. Also, I think voting has utility for the voter because they believe that they might be making a difference, which is a satisfying feeling.

Anonymous said...

Going with what brian said some people don't vote because they don't want jury duty. But I disagree about people not voting because they arn't into politics. Perosanly I don't bother that much following politics because it doesn't interest me but next year when I turn 18 I'll be voting because it is something that sets us apart from other countries. Also, I'll be voting, even though it won't change anything, because the next president or mayor or whatever will have a major impact on my life. John Garrison