Monday, November 01, 2010

Gordon Tullock Makes The Case for Not Voting

 
In a heretical, irreverent look at voting, George Mason economist Gordon Tullock explains in this video why he doesn't vote, and why he believes you're better off avoiding the polls altogether on Election Day.

"It's more likely that you'll get killed driving to the polling booth, than it is that your vote will change the outcome of the election."

But what if nobody voted? Professor Tullock answers...

14 Comments:

At 11/01/2010 9:06 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Apparently Tullock's grip on recent history is a bit flawed...

Jimmy Carter in 1976 won Ohio with an average of 1 vote advantage per precinct. George Bush in 2000 won the Presidency with just 537 votes in Florida...

Now Tullock's argument might make more sense if he pointed to the contents of this Reason TV video clip...

 
At 11/01/2010 10:46 AM, Blogger rjs said...

voting is the opiate of the masses...

 
At 11/01/2010 10:53 AM, Blogger Joe said...

Umm, maybe math isn't my strong suit, but I thought that even with an election where the gap is only 537, it's still not close enough for one vote to make a difference. All one voter could do is varies the gap from 536-538, far from enough to swing the election.

Secondly, considering that Ohio assigns presidential electors not based on the number of districts won, but on statewide popular vote, then the gap would've still been too wide for any one vote to make a difference. Besides, Carter won the presidency by 57 electoral votes, meaning Ohio's 25 electoral votes would not be quite enough to swing the election anyways.

As far as presidential elections go, these are close, but still not close enough for one vote to make a difference.

Ironically, the elections where people's votes are most likely to make a difference (local elections) are the ones they participate least in. Then again, lots of people think buying lottery tickets is a better long-term investment strategy than playing the stock market. I guess they ain't so good at that math stuff.

 
At 11/01/2010 12:21 PM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

In 2004 Dino Rossi lost the Washington state governor's race to Gov. Christine Gregoire. The margin was 133 votes out of 2.8 million cast. If the votes of service members had been included there is no doubt that Dino would have won -- but at that time there was only seven days after the election for votes to come via mail.

The new rules allow twenty-one days after the election for the votes of service people to arrive after the election. This will hopefully allow Dino Rossi to become Washington's new senator.

Mr. Tullock needs to know that millions of military and intelligence service people defend his right to foolish smug-ass comments.

 
At 11/01/2010 12:39 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

one vote is not really the point. this is a deeply flawed argument. any half decent economist ought to automatically consider what would happen if everyone adopted this plan.

clearly, this is exactly the plan you want your political opponents to follow while you yourself go.

it's an inherently self defeating idea as well.

each marginal vote not cast raises the value of those votes that are. thus, each time someone follows this idea, they are making the thing they gave away more valuable. if there were only one vote in america, its worth would be in the billions.

i don't know what passes for econ at george mason these days, but if this is any indication, i'm not terribly impressed.

 
At 11/01/2010 12:44 PM, Blogger morganovich said...

this argument is also an excellent example of the lottery fallacy.

even in a lottery that is more than fair, say 100 tickets sold for $1 for a 1/100 chance to win a $150 prize, the 99 losing tickets will always look like a bad purchase once you know what the outcome is.

the argument that you "barely ever win" does nothing to alter the fact that paying $1 for $1.50 in expected value is a good bet.

this election argument contains the same fallacy.

sure, perhaps you barely ever make the difference, but you'll never know that until afterward, will you?

 
At 11/01/2010 1:04 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

The real question is not whether to vote or not to vote, the real question is "Should I bother to vote or not, knowing that 100 million other people will vote?"

Any rational cost-benefit analysis would conclude "No."

But if everybody, or millions of others, adopted this plan, then it would be more rational to vote.

See a public-choice analysis of "rational ignorance" for more detail on this.

 
At 11/01/2010 2:48 PM, Blogger PP said...

Thank you, my favorite friend. You make sense, you research, you present, perfectly. Brilliant!!! Your fan. pp

 
At 11/01/2010 7:18 PM, Blogger sam said...

You need to think a little more deviously. Either Mr. Tullock can spend a couple hours of his day going out to vote, or he can spend a couple hours making a video about how you shouldn't vote.

If he then targets that video at people who would have voted for the other guy, he can have a much bigger impact on the outcome than he can with his one measly vote.

Mr. Tullock is still participating in the democratic process, but he's just taking best advantage of his strengths.

 
At 11/01/2010 8:07 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"See a public-choice analysis of "rational ignorance" for more detail on this"...

No doubt Professor Mark but aren't you missing one small detail, a detail that Tullock seems to have been missing (on purpose?), freedom to choose (even if its irrational) regardless of the validity of his or your arguments?

 
At 11/01/2010 8:30 PM, Blogger Mark J. Perry said...

Sure, people have a perfect right to engage in irrational behavior, including voting. Gordon Tullock is just saying that it's rational to exercise his right not to vote, and it's irrational for one to exercise his/her right to vote.

In almost all elections, the outcome wouldn't change whether 1,000 people voted or 100 million people voted (assuming the 1,000 people were a random sample of the entire population). So although "high voter turnout" makes a lot of people feel better, it usually won't change the outcome. And if you get the same results with fewer votes, that conserves on scare resources (time), and is a better outcome.

 
At 11/02/2010 7:42 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"In almost all elections, the outcome wouldn't change whether 1,000 people voted or 100 million people voted (assuming the 1,000 people were a random sample of the entire population)"....

Ahhhh Professor Mark, here's where you forget that 'all politics are local'...

You've made a pretty good case (as did Tullock) for presidential elections...

Voting is actually a bottom to top method of getting something done...

Consider all that happens today when people go to the polls...

The media has overplayed the part of Representatives and Senators running for office which is of course important...

Yet the real importance is what happens in the local, county, and state elections...

Taxation is considered in local propositions and referendums as are positions on school boards, county boards and state senators, representatives, and governors ...

 
At 11/02/2010 9:07 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

mark-

"any rational cost benefit analysis would say no" is a pretty questionable statement in many cases.

i am a permanent absentee voter in CA. all i need to do is drop it in the mail a few days ahead of time. the opportunity cost is virtually zero. i'm going to the mailbox anyway. i think about 50% of San Francisco votes this way.

the only real opportunity cost is the time i spend understanding the issues, and i think it's pretty unconvincing to argue that has no other value. if nothing else, it allows me to understand what happened and respond to it rationally/effectively.

you also discount the notion of visible opposition. it may be that even if you do not win, if you can make it close it at least sends a statement that may well have value and/or encourage later action.

i have severe doubts about the whole "rational ignorance" argument. it's essentially a form of the tragedy of the commons argument. you feel you benefit from being the one to free ride, but if a meaningful number of others do so too, then you can get some perverse results. it also assumes that understanding the political issues of the day tends to be useful only in elections and not in the rest of your life. the full benefits of understanding health care policy likely go well beyond the ballot box.

sure, it's rational for you not to learn how to fix your microwave, but the argument that because your one vote does not impact a public policy decision that it's a waste of time to understand it (as argued by folks like downs) is a misframing of the issue.

learn once, understand forever. the benefits of getting a working understanding of key policy issues will help you understand how to react to the world around you. even if you disagree with a policy, at least you will know what is happening.

 
At 11/02/2010 2:20 PM, Blogger Jarrett said...

I respectfully disagree, Dr. Perry and Dr. Tullock. And it's very simple why.

Basically the only advocates out there for not voting are those on our side; small government advocates and libertarians. Anecdotally, I have dozens of friends on facebook (all libertarians) chastising those for voting and boasting about themselves not participating.

It is of course rational to not vote, as Dr. Tullock says...but advocating it? That brings more people to your side. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of libertarians and others who favor smaller government do not vote.

This hurts our side and makes not voting (or at least advocating it) very irrational.

 

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