Your Vote Does NOT Count

by Don Boudreaux on September 30, 2004

in Politics

A realistic rather than a romantic view of democracy is not what I expect from the New York Times. But, thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised by this essay that appears in this past Sunday’s NY Times Magazine.

Here are choice selections:

Since there are a hundred million voters or so in U.S. presidential elections these days, the probability that any one of them will decide the outcome is on the order of .00000001.  If that is the infinitesimal impact you can expect to have, is it rational to take the trouble to cast a ballot? Perhaps not.

The fact that more than half of the U.S. electorate nevertheless does go through the effort of voting is something of a puzzlement to political scientists who theorize about rational choice…. [Some of these theorists] have wondered whether voters aren’t motivated primarily by a desire for self-expression, or by the ”entertainment value” of going to the polls, or even by a fascination with voting machines. (Perhaps this is why so many people bestir themselves to vote without bothering to learn anything about the issues.)

I find the theory of expressive voting – explained superbly by Geoff Brennan and Loren Lomasky in Democracy and Decision (1993) – quite compelling. A happy result of this theory, if it is valid, is that it gives hope to those of us who try to influence public policy by changing the climate of ideas. Narrow pocketbook matters do not always carry the day.

One of the unhappy results of this theory, if it is valid, is that it permits people to make political decisions based on absurd and illogical beliefs.

Thanks to David Boaz at the Cato Institute for reminding me of this interesting essay in the Times.

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