Friday, October 3, 2008

Vote and Die

Back in 2004, Steven Landsburg explained why many economists don't bother to vote:
Your individual vote will never matter unless the election in your state is within one vote of a dead-even tie. (And even then, it will matter only if your state tips the balance in the electoral college.) What are the odds of that? Well, let's suppose you live in Florida and that Florida's 6 million voters are statistically evenly divided—meaning that each of them has (as far as you know) exactly a 50/50 chance of voting for either Bush or Kerry—the statistical equivalent of a coin toss. Then the probability you'll break a tie is equal to the probability that exactly 3 million out of 6 million tosses will turn up heads. That's about 1 in 3,100—roughly the same as the probability you'll be murdered by your mother.
Steven Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) provides a similar explanation. Many people retort, "if everyone thought that way, then no one would vote". But, of course, many people do vote. The real question is, given the limited impact of any one vote, how seriously (or "rationally") do people take this opportunity? Bryan Caplan has many interesting thoughts on this issue.

But now voting-agnostics have another line of argument: voting can kill. According to new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
On the eight election Tuesdays, a total of 1,265 people -- drivers, passengers or pedestrians -- were killed during the hours that polls were open, equivalent to 158 per day or 13 per hour. On the 16 Tuesdays a week before and a week after election day, 2,152 people were killed in the same time span -- equivalent to 134 per day or 11 per hour.
Seems like Diddy may have gotten this wrong:

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