Sunday, November 06, 2005

Peers Peering at Polls

The Freakonomics guys ask Why Vote in today's NY Times maggy. That link should be good for a week. The supporting research is on the Freakonomics site, but unfortunately, they route you to the Times expiro-link for the article.

The short of it includes:
  • Every vote counts is a cliché without legs. In over 56,000 national and state legislative races since 1898, there were pitifully few close elections.
  • When it counts the most, the voters don't decide. Remember five conservative Supremes handing George the Lesser the 2000 election.
Oddly enough, Switzerland figured it had the solution when its voters stopped clogging the polls. While they used to vote at every toot of the alpenhorn, they participated measurably less. The country instituted vote-by-mail for all registered voters in all 26 cantons, phased by years. They would get ballots by mail and return the completed ones.

Turnout decreased, more so in small cantons and the smaller communities.

This led the Freakonomics folk to surmise that we may vote because we are expected to, because of peer pressure. If neighbors see us at the poll, they know we have done our socially acceptable duty. If not, tsk, tsk. As they concluded:
In other words, we do vote out of self-interest - a conclusion that will satisfy economists - 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 or co-workers.
Locally and regionally, on the other hand, we have issues that I am wired about. I wish I could vote against the Maine initiative to rescind gay rights on Tuesday. I sure am going to try to get my guys in City Council. I don't care whether you see me at the polls.

1 comment:

worldcitizen said...

It may be that the most valuable payoff of voting is simply being seen at the polling place by your friends or co-workers.

Good god, can their regard for the responsibilities of citizenship get any lower.

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