Counting how votes count | Science News



Support credible science journalism.

Subscribe to Science News today.

Math Trek

Counting how votes count

Counting how votes count

A rational person will vote, economists show, as an act of altruism.

4:17pm, October 17, 2008

Voting can look like a bum deal. After all, odds that your one vote will determine the outcome of the presidential election are extraordinarily low. Even if the election makes a very big difference to you personally — say, you’ll be $20,000 richer if your candidate gets elected — the chance that your vote will make the difference is so low that the expected payoff for voting is minuscule. Factor in the time and trouble, and why would anyone bother?

Indeed, some economists have concluded that, strictly speaking, voting in large elections isn’t rational. People do it, economists say, because they’re confused or irrational — or, perhaps, because it makes them feel good.

Not so fast, says a team of economists and statisticians who have done a new analysis of voting. Factor in the good to everyone, and voting becomes a rational act after all. For example, they say, suppose that the election will provide the benefit of just $100 to each

This article is available only to subscribing members. Join the Society today or Log in.

Get Science News headlines by e-mail.

More from Science News

From the Nature Index Paid Content