Is Voting Rational or Instrumental?

  • Gary S. Becker
  • Casey B. Mulligan


A fully rational choice approach to politics does not closely resemble modern models of voting behavior that purport to be applications of the economists analysis of rationality to the political sector. For these models do not build voting choices on the fragility of preferences about how to vote, which we show to be a basic implication of the voters paradox. Building a simple model on the fragility of preferences about how to vote delivers an number of different and realistic implications for the demand for public policies and political candidates, the supply of public policies and political candidates, and, ultimately, the determinants of public policy. The model explains why so many studies have found voters not voting in their (narrowly defined) self-interest, why minorities are not exploited under majoritarian voting, why interest groups have an important influence on public policy, why public decisions are so weakly correlated with voting rules, and why conformity is more common in political than private life.


Voter Turnout Vote Game Market Sector Vote Process Individual Vote 
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.



We appreciate the comments of Morris Fiorina and Erzo Luttmer, the research assistance of Ran Tao and Shiqiang Zhan, University of Chicago seminar participants, and the financial support of the Smith Richardson Foundation. This is an unfinished note we wrote in 1999 and did not publish because we thought it needed, and we would eventually find, an additional breakthrough. Joshua Hall convinced us to include it in his book of unpublished papers. Gary had a few minor edits for Halls purpose, which were lost at the time Gary passed away. Throughout his life, Gary was eager to and capable of further integrating and advancing theories of economic and political behaviors.


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of ChicagoChicagoUSA

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