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Today’s Agenda. Is it rational to vote (participate)? Why do people vote? (it doesn’t make sense) Vote or Die? Is lower participation really bad for the U.S.?. Voting in America. American citizens have more opportunities to vote than anyone else in the world.

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Today’s Agenda


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  1. Today’s Agenda • Is it rational to vote (participate)? • Why do people vote? • (it doesn’t make sense) • Vote or Die? • Is lower participation really bad for the U.S.?

  2. Voting in America American citizens have more opportunities to vote than anyone else in the world. Americans have up to 5 or 6 opportunities to vote per year! (Can this help explain turnout “burnout?”)

  3. Is it rational to vote? Reward = (Pr x B) - C (Prob. of casting winning vote x Benefits of your candidate in office) – Costs of becoming informed and voting

  4. Is it rational to vote? • What is the probability of you casting the winning vote in a large election? • Minimax regret theory

  5. Is it rational to vote? • What is the probability of you casting the winning vote in a large election? • Extremely close to 0 Reward = (0 x B) - C

  6. Is it rational to vote? • Political scientists understand very clearly why many people DON’T vote.

  7. Is it rational to vote? • Political scientists understand very clearly why many people DON’T vote. • What we can’t understand is why many people DO vote. That is a puzzle.

  8. 2-hour wait to VOTE?!

  9. Get Some Satisfaction: From compliance with the DUTY of voting From affirming allegiance to the political system Of affirming a party preference Of becoming informed and deciding Of affirming one’s efficacy in the political system

  10. So what are campaigns doing? The goal of a campaign is to alter your perception of these probabilities, costs, and benefits They exaggerate/clarify benefits, play down costs, and try to give you satisfaction (regardless of the outcome)

  11. Vote or Die!

  12. Rock the Vote

  13. What happens? By providing information (in the form of a “brand”), campaigns reduce cost of voting and clarify potential benefits Perceptions of tight races make us misjudge probabilities (much like the lottery!) Strong partisans or ideologues get satisfaction from casting their ballot

  14. Who really votes anyway? Higher Education Wealthier Homeowners Older people Community involvement / Churchgoers Strong partisans and ideologues People contacted by a campaign People who live in a competitive district

  15. Fact or Fiction? • The U.S. has one of the lowest participation (voting) rates compared to almost every other Western democracy. • Fact • Fiction

  16. Fact or Fiction? • This is mostly because voters in the U.S. are the most apathetic (uncaring) citizens among these countries. • Fact • Fiction

  17. What affects voter turnout? • Institutional or contextual: • Collective action problem • Too many elections! • Lack of penalties • No voting holiday! • Single member districts over proportional representation • Less competitive elections • Less mobilization by elites • Lowering the voting age?

  18. McDonald and Popkin 2001 • The denominator in Voting Age Population has gone up over time, artificially decreasing turnout • Increase in # of non-citizens (mostly legal non-citizens) • Increase in number of prisoners

  19. “Myth of the Vanishing Voter”

  20. Is low turnout a problem? Yes, dummy! • Participation transforms people (Like working out)

  21. Is low turnout a problem? Yes, dummy! • Participation transforms people (Like working out) 2) Demonstrates that our democracy is fake

  22. Is low turnout a problem? Yes, dummy! • Participation transforms people (Like working out) 2) Demonstrates that our democracy is fake 3) Voters are different than non-voters

  23. Is low turnout a problem? No, dummy! • Maybe people are satisfied

  24. A protest to “Free Paris Hilton” Why did only 5 people show up?

  25. Is low turnout a problem? No, dummy! • Maybe people are satisfied 2) Why should we care about what uninterested people want?

  26. Is low turnout a problem? No, dummy! • Maybe people are satisfied 2) Why should we care about what uninterested people want? 3) Results of elections wouldn’t change

  27. Clint Eastwood