Should You Vote?

The Democrats and Republicans have very different philosophies. Imagine you think that that the value to society of having the party of your choice in office is equivalent to giving everyone X dollars.

The probability of the average American swinging the presidential election is about 1-in-60 million What is the probability your vote will make a difference?. If your time is worth $20 per hour and it takes half-an-hour to vote, that means if you care about all of society equally, you should vote if and only if you think X is greater than $600 million.

I think even the cynics who think that the Democrats and Republicans are both practically the same – just political machines trying to win reelection can admit that who runs the country matters more than $2 per capita.

That being said, if you are purely selfish, it is clearly not in your interest to vote – unless, of course, you think that you personally will be rewarded by about $600 million by the right party being elected.

This is, of course, all about averages. In some states the probability of swinging the election is as high as 1-in-10 million. In others, as low as 1-in-1 billion. However, it appears clear to me that this difference doesn’t change the underlying conclusion: selfless people should vote; selfish ones should not.

Gelman, A., Silver, N., & Edlin, A. (2012). What is the probability your vote will make a difference?. Economic Inquiry, 50(2), 321-326. https://doi.org/10.3386/w15220.