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Why Don’t Economists Vote?

A few days ago, in an online Q&A with the Washington Post, someone asked this question:

Annapolis, Md.: Have you explored why some people vote against their own economic interest?

And I gave the following answer: No. But it’s not that surprising, since one vote is really worth very very little. It probably comes down to the fact that most people consider a single vote to be worth far less in electoral oomph than in the value it gives them in terms of their conscience, or belief, or style, or whatever you want to call it. In “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”, Thomas Frank makes much of the fact that blue-collar Republicans are voting against their economic self-interest, which is true. But again, I don’t find it so surprising. Steven Spielberg is voting against his economic self-interest by voting Democratic, no? I think the voting paradigm we all cling to — that economic self-interest rules all — is pretty weak. (I should also note that I don’t know a single economist who bothers to vote, so worthless do they consider the act.)

Since then, I’ve heard from quite a few people, including at least one economist who says she always votes. Today, we heard from one Anna V., who had this to say:

I saw part of the recent Freakonomics Q&A on and was surprised by the assertion that most economists don’t bother to vote because it’s just not worth it. After the extremely close results in the 2000 Gore vs. Bush race (not to mention the extremely close results in a lot of local government races), how can you justify this position? (And give me a break, with all the absentee and other voting options available nowadays, it’s not a big expenditure of time or effort to cast a ballot.)

Anna V. has plainly turned the issue from a “what is” to a “what ought to be,” which I think is perfectly fine. I’d love to hear what others have to say — economists and non-economists — about the utility of voting. (It should also be said that there’s a huge difference in a national election and a local election, which I probably would have noted had the Q&A not been a live one.) Comments welcome.