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Why Vote?

While 2005 is an off year for Presidential and Congressional elections, Tuesday is still Election Day, and in its honor, we got to wondering: why the heck do people bother to vote? That is the subject of our latest Freakonomics column in the New York Times Magazine. As always, we’ve posted a page elsewhere on this website with ancillary information. Happy Election Day, whether you vote or not. A few months ago, the question of voting arose in an online Q&A I did with the Washington Post. Here is the relevant excerpt. (I should add that I have since met a few economists who actually do vote.)

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

Stephen Dubner: 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.)