Monday, November 3, 2008

Vote or... not, I guess

Someone recently emailed me this video, with the subject "A Subtle Urging to Vote".

I am going to vote tomorrow, if for no other reason than because my fiance will kill me if I don't. It's not that I don't feel strongly about the election or that I think there are no differences between the candidates. But, as economist Gordon Tullock explains, voting makes little sense when you do the cost benefit analysis.

Consider the benefit side, for a minute. My vote will only count if the outcome of the election would have been different had I not voted. This means I have to cast the deciding vote; otherwise the outcome would have happened even if I had stayed at home. So what are the odds that I'll cast the deciding vote? It depends on where I live:
The states where a single vote is most likely to matter are New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire and Colorado, where your vote has an approximate 1 in 10 million chance of determining the national election outcome. On average, a voter in America has a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.
That's from research by Andrew Gelman, at Columbia University. So it's not that my vote doesn't count, it's just that it counts very, very little. And I'm not even lucky enough to live in a swing state.

So does this mean I think voting is a waste of time? Not really. While the benefit side is low (at least as far as expected payoff), the cost side is pretty low too, though perhaps not low enough. I'm lucky enough to live next door to my polling station. Others are not so lucky. Hopefully there will be more support for the idea of moving Election Day to the weekend so no one has to work it around their job.

We can't make the benefits any greater, but we can sure make voting less costly.

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