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Our Daily Bleg: Why Do You Vote?

We received an interesting bleg from Martin Saavedra, who is studying international economics and finance at the Catholic University of America and plans to start an economics Ph.D. next fall. He is interested in a subject we’ve written about before — the utility of voting — although he is after a more personal set of information, namely: why do you vote?

Here is Martin’s bleg:

Why exactly do people vote? There are lots of posts on the rationality of voting and how to increase turnout. While that might explain why or why not someone should vote, it does not explain why people do vote.

People cannot be voting only because they enjoy it. A lot of evidence suggests that changes in the probability that a vote will be decisive, even if that probability is still next to zero, change voter turnout. This suggests that people consider how likely they are to affect the outcome of an election when deciding to vote.

The most insightful answers will probably come from those who are frequently on the margin — that is, the people who vote sometimes. What factors changed their minds?

So I think we should ask readers:

1. Out of the last 3 presidential elections, how many were you eligible to vote in?

2. How many elections did you vote in?

3. Why did you vote (if you did for at least one)?

4. Why did you not vote (if you didn’t for at least one)?

Just to put the bleg in better context, here’s a bit more information about Martin himself:

Voting theory is one my main research interests. Most of the literature states that people either vote for strategic reasons or out of a sense of duty. So theory predicts that in large elections, where the strategic value of voting is near zero, people will vote out of a sense of duty. However, the data contradict this.

So I’m writing a paper arguing that people think their duty is to act strategically, because of a sense of group identity. For those interested, the latest (and still rough) version is available here.

I voted in the 2006 primary and general elections, both times for Michael Steele (R) for the U.S. Senate and for former Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich (R). I did not vote this past election for three reasons:

1. Bad weather.

2. I was up to my eyeballs in midterm exams.

3. After following the election very closely, I didn’t think either candidate was decisively better (although in retrospect, I’m happy Sarah Palin is not vice president-elect).

My parents vote in every election out of a sense of duty.