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Election Day

A lot of people today are voting, and a lot of people are not voting, and a lot of other people are wondering if their vote matters in the least. Here is what we wrote on the subject last year. If it is indeed irrational to vote, as many economists believe, then instead of mourning low voter turnout, perhaps we should be lauding low voter turnout as a sign of great rationality on the part of the American public.

But if you really do want higher voter turnout, there are at least three things that could help: pay people to vote (even if the payment is in the form of a lottery ticket); make voting mandatory, as it is in Australia; or — and this would be an interesting, albeit impossible, experiment — forbid anyone from conducting and publicizing pre-election polls. If you don’t know the likely outcome of an election, would you be more willing to vote? I am guessing the answer is a big fat yes. When we get bombarded with poll numbers, supporters of the leading candidates are disinclined to vote because the victory seems in the bag; and supporters of the trailing candidate are disinclined because defeat seems inevitable.

And if none of these measures work, you might just try handing out live pigs or jugs of whiskey, as they used to in the old days.