, Volume 84, Issue 1-2, pp 91-117

Explaining voter turnout patterns: An information theory

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Abstract

Voting research is rich in empirical regularities yet a parsimonious theory of voter turnout that can match the facts has proven to be elusive. This paper argues that voter turnout patterns can be explained by extending the traditional rational voter model to include limited information. A model is presented in which utility-maximizing consumers receive higher payoffs from voting the more confident they are of their vote choice. The model provides an explanation for the most important cross-sectional voter turnout patterns. In addition, it suggests a novel explanation for the post-1960 decline in U.S. participation.

I am grateful for the helpful comments of Giorgio De Santis, Andrew Dick, Thomas Gilligan, Daniel Ingberman, Lawrence Kenny, Stephen Knack, Barbara McCutcheon, Tomas Philipson, Patricia Reynolds, Andrei Shleifer, Jeffrey Smith, James Stoker, Mark Zupan, anonymous referees, and seminar participants at Claremont Graduate School, UC-Davis, UCLA, The University of Chicago, and the University of Southern California. I would also like to acknowledge the financial support of the Bradley Foundation and Olin Foundation through grants to the Center for the Study of the Economy and the State at The University of Chicago.