Sunday, November 06, 2005

Vote early, vote often

Is it possible for an economist to be thrilled at the sight of first-time voters, whether in Iraq of Cambodia or any of the other places where people can now vote, forming long lines to vote (even braving life and limb)? Rational ignorance is a powerful argument and declining voter turnout as affluence raises opportunity costs are well known and well documented.

In "Why Vote?", Freakonomists Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt discuss how Swiss voter turnout actually decreased when mail-in voting made the act cheaper. There is self-interest at stake, write the authors, "but not necessarily the same self-interest as indicated by our actual ballot choice. For all the talk of how people 'vote their pocketbooks,' the Swiss study suggests that we may be driven to vote less by a financial incentive than a social one. It may be that the most valuable payoff of voting is simply being seen at the polling place by your friends and co-workers."