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Rationality of voting, again

Dear Mr. Leonard,

A colleague pointed me to your article about our paper on why it is rational to vote. I’m glad you think our article is “pretty funny.” We try to be entertaining even in our most serious writings. I agree with your comment that “we don’t need a rational choice framework to provide a reason for participating in the process.” And, in a world where nobody was making rational choice arguments, our article might not be necessary. But with prominent economic writers such as Steven Levitt telling people that it’s irrational to vote, we think our article offers a useful corrective.

Beyond this, we are making a point which I believe you overlooked, which is that if you _are_ voting for rational reasons, than what is rational is to be voting for (perceived) social benefits, not for your own pocketbook. It is indeed irrational to vote if the gain that you’re expecting is a potential $300 tax cut or better health insurance for yourself or whatever. But it is _not_ necessarily irrational to vote if your goal is to help the country as a whole.

Andrew Gelman

P.S. If you’re interested, our longer research article on rational voting is here.


  1. Richard D. Morey says:

    The comments on the article are the best part. Apparently, the whole economic crisis is your fault.

  2. Smaug says:

    The comments on that Salon article made for depressing reading. Is the average person really that agressively ignorant, or is there something special about those who vent online (maybe including me)?

  3. jsalvati says:

    Have you guys explored the idea that altruists should only rationally vote when they rationally expect they would improve the quality of political decisions? That would mean that about half of voters are voting irrationally.