Altruism(?) in the Presence of Costly Voting: A Theoretical and Experimental Analysis

Tulman, Sarah Ann, Department of Economics, University of Virginia
Holt, Charles, Department of Economics, University of Virginia
Ciliberto, Federico, Department of Economics, University of Virginia
Anderson, Simon, Department of Economics, University of Virginia
Volden, Craig, Frank Batten School of Leadership & Public Policy, University of Virginia

Many approaches have been taken in attempts to resolve the paradox of voter turnout, referring to the fact that observed voter turnout rates are far greater than rational choice theory would predict. Under rational choice theory, no one should vote even in relatively small elections because the probability of a vote being pivotal (making or breaking a tie) would be effectively zero. This paper brings together two approaches-the use of quantal response equilibrium (QRE) analysis, which introduces noise into the voting decision making process, and the possibility of ethical (altruism-motivated) voting-in an attempt to explain observed overvoting in the presence of multiple voting choices and stochastic voting costs. A series of laboratory experiments tested the predictions of the resulting model. The participants in the experiment were also given controlled opportunities for communicating with their immediate neighbors, in order to enhance the possibility of realizing the possibility of ethical voting. The results of the experiments show that overvoting, relative to the Nash equilibrium prediction, occurred in the turnout rates for subjects who voted for the candidate who offered them a higher payment. The QRE-based model was able to explain some but not all of this overvoting. Ethical voting did occur, but gained momentum only in the presence of a vocal advocate and even then it dissipated relatively quickly. Regardless, ethical voting would not have been able to account for the overvoting given that the overvoting occurred where subjects voted in their own economic self-interest. One area that may show promise in explaining overvoting is the chat feature, in which subjects encouraged each other to vote for a given candidate and created accountability by asking for whom they had voted in previous rounds. iii Additionally, I elicited subjects' beliefs about the probability that their vote had been pivotal in the final round of the experiment (or would have been pivotal, for those who had abstained from voting). This tested the relationship between the probability of voting and the perceived probability of casting a pivotal vote, and results showed this relationship to be significant and positive.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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