Public Choice

, Volume 99, Issue 1–2, pp 39–55 | Cite as

Why do people vote? An experiment in rationality

  • André Blais
  • Robert Young
Article

Abstract

The study presents the findings of an experiment conducted during the 1993 Canadian fedeal election campaign. Students in two universities were exposed to a ten-minute presentation about the rational model of voting and the ‘paradox’ that so many people vote when it is apparently irrational on a cost-benefit basis. Our data indicate that exposure to the presentation decreased turnout in the election by seven percentage points. This result contributes to the debate abut the effect of rational-choice models on real political behavior. More important, the experimental panel data permit the presentation's effect to be decomposed, and this helps explain why people do vote. In this study, turnout was reduced mainly because the presentation diminished the respondents' sense of duty, an effect that was indirect, because there was no reference in the presentation to such motives. Framing the voting act in rational-choice terms induced some students to reconsider whether they should feel obliged to vote.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

References

  1. Aldrich, J.H. (1993). Rational choice and turnout. American Journal of Political Science 37: 246–276.Google Scholar
  2. Barry, B. (1970). Sociologists, economists and democracy. London: CollierMacmillan.Google Scholar
  3. Blais, A. and Young, R. (1996). Why do people vote?: An experiment in rationality. Working Paper No. 64, Political Economy Research Group, University of Western Ontario.Google Scholar
  4. Brunk, G. (1980). The impact of rational participation models on voting attitudes. Public Choice 35: 549–564.Google Scholar
  5. Clausen, A.R. (1968). Response validity: Vote report. Public Opinion Quarterly 32: 588–606.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Cyr, A.B. (1975). The calculus of voting reconsidered. Public Opinion Quarterly 39: 19–39.Google Scholar
  7. Downs, A. (1957). An economic theory of democracy. New York: Harper and Row.Google Scholar
  8. Dillman, D.A. (1978). Mail and telephone surveys: A total design method. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  9. Ferejohn, J. and Fiorina, M. (1974). The paradox of not voting: A decision theoretic analysis. American Political Science Review 68: 525–536.Google Scholar
  10. Granberg, D. and Holmberg, S. (1992). The Hawthorne effect in election studies: The impact of survey participation on voting. British Journal of Political Science 22: 240–248.Google Scholar
  11. Green, D. and Shapiro, I. (1994). Pathologies of rational choice theory: A critique of applications in political science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Greenwald, A.G., Carnot, C.G., Beach, R. and Young, B. (1987). Increasing voting behaviour by asking people if they expect to vote. Journal of Applied Psychology 72: 315–318.Google Scholar
  13. Grofman, B. (1993). Is turnout the paradox that ate rational choice theory? In B. Grofman (Ed.), Information, participation and choice. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  14. Kelman, S. (1987). "Public Choice" and Public Spirit: The Public Interest 87: 80–94.Google Scholar
  15. Mueller, D.C. (1989). Public choice II. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Powell, G.B. (1982). Contemporary democracies: Participation, stability and violence. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Pammett, J. (1991). Voting turnout in Canada. In H. Bakvis (Ed.), Voter turnout in Canada. Toronto: Dundurn.Google Scholar
  18. Riker, W.H. and Ordeshook, P.C. (1968). A theory of the calculus of voting. American Political Science Review 62: 25–43.Google Scholar
  19. Rosenstone, S.J. and Hansen, J.M. (1993). Mobilization, participation, and democracy in America. New York: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  20. Sudman, S. and Bradburn, N.M. (1987). Asking questions: A practical guide to questionnaire design. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  21. Uhlaner, C.J. (1989). Rational turnout: The neglected role of groups. American Journal of Political Science 33: 390–422.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • André Blais
    • 1
  • Robert Young
    • 2
  1. 1.Département de Science PolitiqueUniversité de MontréalCentre-VilleCanada
  2. 2.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of Western OntarioLondonCanada

Personalised recommendations