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March 10, 2012 1 comment


Probability of Selected Candidate Winning

Expected Value




Don’t Vote



x= ( probability of candidate winning election)

y = ( value of candidate winning election )

z = ( value of your time )

Value of voting as compared to not voting = (.000001)*y – z

The one millionth is a liberal estimate of the effect that your voting has on the probability of your candidate winning. If you subtract the top from the bottom you get the value of voting as compared to not voting; (one millionth)*y -z. Now y is a value that is extremely difficult to know. It would require the ability to see into the future as well as the ability to compare the lot of subjective positives and negatives that are bound to occur. Keep in mind y is the the difference between a your candidate world and an other candidate world so even after seeing what your candidate accomplishes you’d have to know what the other candidate would have accomplished in order to get a good picture of it. Given that people are so often disappointed with the candidate they elect you might say that y could in fact be negative.

Z on the other hand being very concrete is probably more likely to influence your decision on whether or not to vote. After scouring the internet for a few minutes it looks like the amount of time it takes to vote is anywhere from 5 minutes to a few hours. In a few hours one could definitely make twenty one dollars at minimum wage (not that you believe in minimum wage) or watch 6 television shows. This would seem to be good evidence that from an economics perspective voting is not necessarily rational. However it’s not for me to say what the subjective preferences of millions of people who I do not know are. In general though, I would guess that voting is irrational for most people.

Voter turnout which is highest during presidential elections barely crawls over 50 percent.  The question from an economics perspective should be; “Why is voter turnout so high?”, not the other way around. Perhaps it’s not a question then economists can answer. I think it has to do with a belief in voting. People go out to vote because they believe that it’s their democratic duty, and why not believe that when you’ve been told that’s the case your entire life; when so much money is spent on “Get Out the Vote” campaigns.

Many people I encounter are set aback when I tell them that I will not vote. When I tell them why I don’t see it to be a good use of my time the response is usually the same; “If everyone thought that way…”. Well if everyone did think that way and decided not to vote in this upcoming election maybe we could start to undermine the power that the government has, which to me would be a good thing; think the opposite of a mandate. Something I heard anarchist Brad Spangler say at last years Porcfest; “The government is one of the only problems that really does go away if you just ignore it.” All of this is beside the point though; everyone doesn’t think like me. In fact very few people think anything like me. People will even go so far as to say that I’m contradicting myself if I act in way that I don’t wish to see be made into universal law. That might be true if I subscribe to Kants categorical imperative, except, as a matter of fact I do not. However, the pervasiveness, for whatever reason, of this line of thinking might help explain why voter turnout is so high. People vote for a candidate because they believe that they should act in way that they would wish to become universal law, and if everyone voted for their candidate then their candidate would surely be elected and solve all their problems for them.

Regardless of why people vote I’m not going to try to tell you should or shouldn’t vote in moral terms. However, if you don’t think that it’s your democratic duty and your time is more valuable to you then a practically infinitesimal chance that your vote (in South Park terms) will get the turd, rather than the douche into office I would suggest not voting. Since some people seem to react so negatively to the idea of not voting maybe when election day rolls around you can use this decision as a way to engage your friends in political discussion.

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