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Posts Tagged ‘voting’

Do Election Interventions Work?

A new working paper (abstractPDF) by Eli Berman, Michael Callen, Clark Gibson, and James D. Long looks at the effects of election interventions in fragile states, specifically Afghanistan. The results are encouraging:

International development agencies invest heavily in institution building in fragile states, including expensive interventions to support democratic elections. Yet little evidence exists on whether elections enhance the domestic legitimacy of governments. Using the random assignment of an innovative election fraud-reducing intervention in Afghanistan, we find that decreasing electoral misconduct improves multiple survey measures of attitudes toward government, including: (1) whether Afghanistan is a democracy; (2) whether the police should resolve disputes; (3) whether members of parliament provide services; and (4) willingness to report insurgent behavior to security forces.

Why Do We Vote? So We Can Tell People We Voted

We once wrote about reasons to not vote, at least from an economist’s perspective. Since a single vote almost never alters an outcome, what’s in it for the voter?

If a given citizen doesn’t stand a chance of having her vote affect the outcome, why does she bother? In Switzerland, as in the U.S., “there exists a fairly strong social norm that a good citizen should go to the polls,” [Patricia] Funk writes. “As long as poll-voting was the only option, there was an incentive (or pressure) to go to the polls only to be seen handing in the vote. The motivation could be hope for social esteem, benefits from being perceived as a cooperator or just the avoidance of informal sanctions. Since in small communities, people know each other better and gossip about who fulfills civic duties and who doesn’t, the benefits of norm adherence were particularly high in this type of community.”

A New Website on Electoral Systems

Joshua Tucker of the Monkey Cage points to a new website designed to collect information on voter behavior in various electoral systems and educate the public about different systems. Here’s the rundown, from University of Montreal political scientist André Blais:

A team of scientists has launched the website The website has two objectives: inform the public about the various electoral systems that exist in the world to elect state leaders, and collect data on voters’ behaviour under these systems.  We provide information about four electoral systems: one round plurality, two round runoff, alternative vote, and approval vote. The electoral system that is used for the election of the Pope is also described. The visitor is invited to imagine how he/she would vote if the pope was elected under each of these four electoral systems. The study is part of a larger international project designed to better understand the functioning of electoral democracy (Making Electoral Democracy Work). For an example of how such data can help us understand how electoral rules affect vote choice, see Blais et al. 2012. “Assessing the psychological and mechanical impact of electoral rules : A quasi-experiment.” Electoral Studies 31 :829-837.

A Perverse Incentive to Not Vote?

From a reader named Kyle Gregory:

I decided about a year ago that I am not going to vote and happened to find a neat little trick for those of us who take this stance.
I’m not sure about other states, but in Virginia, jury duty is determined by voter registration. I moved a couple of years ago, but never changed my voter registration since I didn’t plan on voting. I recently received notification of jury duty at my parents’ address where I am still registered to vote. The notification form has a section to fill out stating that you have not lived in that county in the past 6 months, which automatically disqualifies you from jury duty! So, as long as I do not want to vote, I am also exempt from having to do jury duty!

Waiting to Vote: $1 Billion Opportunity Cost?

I was on the public-radio show Marketplace Tuesday evening, interviewed about waiting (sparked, I assume, by lines of people waiting to vote).  I never vote on Election Day and never have to wait to vote: I take advantage of Texas’s early voting, which is quick and easy. I estimate the opportunity cost of people waiting in line on Tuesday — the value of their time — was around $1 billion.  Those resources would have been much better spent creating facilities for early voting in all states. For that sum, a lot of election workers’ salaries could be paid and polling facilities could be kept open from late October through early November.  An additional virtue is that more people might vote, and expanding democracy would be a good thing.  Who couldn’t support this reallocation of resources?

An Alternative to Democracy?

With the U.S. presidential election nearly here, everyone seems to have politics on their mind.  Unlike most people, economists tend to have an indifference towards voting.  The way economists see it, the chances of an individual’s vote influencing an election outcome is vanishingly small, so unless it is fun to vote, it doesn’t make much sense to do so.  On top of that, there are a number of theoretical results, most famously Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem, which highlight how difficult it is to design political systems/voting mechanisms that reliably aggregate the preferences of the electorate.

Mostly, these theoretical explorations into the virtues and vices of democracy leave me yawning.

Last spring, however, my colleague Glen Weyl mentioned an idea along these lines that was so simple and elegant that I was amazed no one had ever thought of it before.  In Glen’s voting mechanism, every voter can vote as many times as he or she likes.  The catch, however, is that you have to pay each time you vote, and the amount you have to pay is a function of the square of the number of votes you cast. 

What's Your Favorite "Edutainment" Podcast?

Freakonomics Radio has been nominated as one of the top “edutainment” podcasts on iTunes, and the biggest vote-getter will be featured on iTunes in July. You can vote here. I will warn you, the competition is very stiff — we’re up against Radiolab (which would probably get my vote, to be honest), the TED Talks podcast, and some other formidables.

I realize it is the height of hypocrisy for us, the guys who say that voting is overvalued, to ask for your vote. But if you don’t mind voting for hypocrites, go ahead and tick the box.

Are Voters Just Rooting for Clothes?

Matthew Yglesias recently noted that the very rich are unhappy with President Obama because he would like to increase the taxes on the very rich.  Although this might be true, the number of people unhappy with Obama exceeds the number of people who comprise the very rich.  So why are many of the non-rich unhappy with Obama?  And why are so many other people quite happy with our current president? 

Perhaps the answer is similar to a story frequently told about sports fans.

Back in the early 1990s, a friend of mine declared his hatred of Charles Barkley.  At the time, Sir Charles was an All-Star for the Philadelphia 76ers.  Sometime after this declaration, though, Barkley was traded to the Phoenix Suns.  As a fan of the Suns, my friend changed his tune.  With Sir Charles in Phoenix, my friend was now a fan of Barkley.

More recently, LeBron James was an extremely popular athlete in Cleveland.  But when he changed his uniform to something from Miami, his popularity in Ohio plummeted.  

These stories are not uncommon among sports fans.  In fact, Jerry Seinfeld once observed that fans who behave like this are essentially “rooting for clothes.”

The Politics of Political Prediction Markets

For years, I have argued that the best way to track what really matters through election season is to follow the political prediction markets. The one difficulty is that these markets aren’t really available to the general public.  Sure, the University of Iowa runs a market, but because it’s for research purposes, the maximum bet is set at only $500. And while I track InTrade closely, they’re based in Ireland, and are frowned upon by American regulators. Likewise, Betfair won’t deal with American customers.  But all that may be about to change.

Democracy, Live and in Concert

At Saturday’s concert by the Chamber Orchestra Kremlin, the program offered a menu for the second half: The audience was to vote on whether it wished to hear the Tschaikovsky Serenade, the Dvorák Serenade, or Schubert’s Death and the Maiden Quartet (arranged for small string orchestra). After the intermission, the conductor briefly discussed each composer and described each piece, then asked for a show of hands.

I was worried: What if a plurality favored the Schubert (my choice), but the Dvorák had been a close second, with a majority of people vehemently against hearing the Schubert performed by anything other than four string instruments? I don’t imagine that second-preference voting would have been possible (fancier voting schemes regrettably generate larger transactions costs), so we would have listened to the Schubert even though more people would have been better off with the Dvorák.

Fortunately, a small majority of the audience shared my preference and we achieved the first-best (and heard a wonderful performance)!

Do Lower Wages and Higher Unemployment Increase Voter Turnout?

A recent study by Kerwin Kofi Charles and Melvin Stephens Jr argues that increases in wages and employment reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections, though not in presidential contests.
From the abstract:

This paper argues that, since activities that provide political information are complementary with leisure, increased labor market activity should lower turnout, but should do so least in prominent elections where information is ubiquitous. Using official county-level voting data and a variety of OLS and TSLS models, we find that increases in wages and employment: reduce voter turnout in gubernatorial elections by a significant amount; have no effect on Presidential turnout; and raise the share of persons voting in a Presidential election who do not vote on a House of Representative election on the same ballot.

The Ten Commandments of The American Religion

This is a cross-post from James Altucher‘s blog Altucher Confidential. His previous appearances on the Freakonomics blog can be found here.
If I stood in the center of Times Square and said something like “Moses didn’t really part the Red Sea,” or “Jesus never existed,” people would probably keep walking around me, ignoring what I said.
But if I stood there and said, “Going to college is the worst sin you can force your kids to commit,” or “You should never vote again,” or “Never own a home,” people would probably stop, and maybe I‘d lynched. But I would’ve at least gotten their attention. How? By knocking down a few of the basic tenets of what I call the American Religion.
It’s a fickle and false religion, used to replace the ideologies we (a country of immigrants) escaped. Random high priests lurk all over the Internet, ready to pounce. Below are the Ten Commandments of the American Religion, as I see them. If you think there are more, list them in the comments.
The below is an excerpt from my just released book, I Was Blind But Now I Can See.

The Cost of Opposing Hugo Chavez

An important new working paper by Chang-Tai Hsieh, Edward Miguel, Daniel Ortega, and Francisco Rodríguez examines whether Hugo Chavez opposition voters in Venezuela paid a price for their opposition. Between late 2002 and August 2004, more than 4.7 million Venezuelans signed petitions in favor of a recall election for Chavez despite widespread threats that signers would be punished. After Chavez’s . . .

Akhil Amar Got There First

Once again, Catherine Rampell has an interesting Economix post (“Minority Rules: Sex Ratios and Suffrage”) describing a new empirical analysis arguing that “jurisdictions that granted women the right to vote earlier generally had lower concentrations of women.” Why? [M]en had much to lose by enfranchising women. … The relative scarcity of women in the West may have “reduced the political . . .

Time's 100 Most Influential People

For the last few years, Time magazine has compiled a list of the 100 people who “shape our world.” In the past, they’ve made some pretty questionable choices. Economists have not figured very prominently on the previous lists; there has been roughly one economist in the top 100 per year, including people like Jeff Sachs and Larry Summers. This year, . . .

Finalists for the New U.S. Six-Word Motto

We recently solicited your suggestions for a new six-word motto for the U.S. (Yes, this is a reprise of last year’s contest.) As always, you came through brilliantly, with more than 300 submissions. Here are our choices for the six finalists: 1. Consumption’s the Cure That Ails Us. (Submitted by Quin.) 2. We Will Get It Right, Eventually. (Herb) 3. . . .

Can't Anyone in This State Get Elected?

Now that New York Governor David Paterson has appointed Kirsten Gillibrand to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, here’s a strange fact to consider: There are six positions in New York State for which statewide elections are held: governor, lieutenant governor, the two U.S. senators, attorney general, and comptroller. But at the moment, only . . .

Will Obama Reduce the Chance That You Are Called for Jury Duty?

Photo: Tom Lemo One of the changes that the “Yes We Can” movement has already wrought is a substantial increase in voter registration — particularly in swing states. In Virginia, for example, the number of registered voters increased by almost 10 percent. Since voter-registration lists are also used to construct juror lists, a possible benefit of this registration boost is . . .

Eric Oliver on the “Bigot Belt”

Eric Oliver is a colleague of mine at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the absolutely fantastic book Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic. He has some new and interesting insights on the “Bigot Belt,” which he has generously written up for the Freakonomics blog. The Bigot Belt By Eric Oliver A Guest Post . . .

Are MLB Players Irrational, Biased, or Just Loopy?

There’s been a lot of noise recently about a Sports Illustrated poll in which Major League Baseball players named Derek Jeter the most overrated player in the league, with 10 percent of the vote. The poll was based on a survey of 495 MLB players. Since SI runs a new poll every week, I assume the questions were asked all . . .

Kids and Congress

Ebonya Washington, an economist at Yale, has a great paper that was just published in the American Economic Review called “Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers’ Voting on Women’s Issues.” She looks at members in the House of Representatives and looks to see whether their voting patterns change. She provides interesting evidence that, “conditional on total number of . . .

Can E-Mail Persuade You to Vote?

If an e-mail message from a campaign or non-profit group were to pop up in your inbox on election day asking you to please go down to your polling place and cast your vote, would you do it? Probably not, if the results of a study by Notre Dame political scientist David Nickerson are any indication. Nickerson conducted 13 field . . .

Will ‘Telling On Your Neighbors’ Get Them to Vote?

The American Political Science Review‘s Feb. 2008 issue has a new study by Alan Gerber, Donald Green, and Christopher Larimer testing the accuracy of voter turnout theories based on “rational self-interested behavior.” The researchers sought to “distinguish between two aspects of this type of utility, intrinsic satisfaction from behaving in accordance with a norm and extrinsic incentives to comply.” To . . .

Watching the Democratic Races

The political aficionados in Freakonomics Nation are probably doing the same thing that I’m doing right now — continually reloading the major news pages, in the hopes of finding some useful information. There won’t be any hard data for a few hours yet, and even then, it looks like there may be a long night of vote-counting ahead of us. . . .

A Poll Tax on Selfishness

On a wintry night a few weeks ago, I was walking with Aaron Edlin across the Harvard campus when he casually claimed that the “voter’s paradox” wasn’t generally true — that it could be rational for people to vote for purely instrumental reasons. I did a double take, because the chance that my vote will change the result of any . . .

The FREAK-est Links

Gangs using social network sites to recruit members. (Earlier) Twenty Chicagoans fooled into “voting” with invisible ink. (Earlier) New York City stores begin taking euros. Will global warming spread epidemics across the globe? (Earlier)

Who’s Against Transparency in Government? A Guest Post

Peter Hain has resigned as the U.K.’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions because he failed to declare “donations to his campaign for the Labour deputy leadership worth more than ?100,000.” But Bruce Ackerman and I think that the campaign disclosure law is misguided, and suggest an alternative in an op-ed that we wrote in The Guardian. Transparency in . . .

Super Tuesday Viewer’s Guide: A Guest Post

I have heard from plenty of nervous friends around the country, anticipating the results from Super Tuesday. Truth is, I haven’t a clue who will win. But I thought it worth offering up my own forecast: My key forecast for tonight is that the televised pundits will reveal all sorts of confusion. Tracking results across more than twenty states, and . . .