International Journal of Game Theory

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 71–90 | Cite as

Memetics and voting: how nature may make us public spirited

  • John P. Conley
  • Ali Toossi
  • Myrna WoodersEmail author
Original Paper


We consider the classic puzzle of why people turn out for elections in substantial numbers even though formal analysis strongly suggests that rational agents would not vote. If one assumes that voters do not make systematic mistakes, the most plausible explanation seems to be that agents receive a warm glow from the act of voting itself. However, this begs the question of why agents feel a warm glow from participating in the electoral process in the first place. We approach this question from a memetic standpoint. More specifically, we consider a model in which social norms, ideas, values, or more generally, “memes”, influence the behavior of groups of agents, and in turn, induce a kind of competition between value systems. We show, for a range of situations, that groups with a more public-spirited social norm have an advantage over groups that are not as public-spirited. We also explore conditions under which the altruistic behavior resulting from public-spiritedness is disadvantageous. The details depend on the costs of voting, the extent to which different types of citizens agree or disagree over the benefits of various public policies, and the relative proportions of various preference types in the population. We conclude that memetic evolution over social norms may be a force that causes individuals to internalize the benefits that their actions confer on others.


Public Choice Evolutionary Game High Type Stable Steady State Winning Coalition 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Vanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA
  2. 2.University of IllinoisUrbana-ChampaignUSA

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