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May 07, 2015


Luis Enrique

I'm sure this is dreadful pop biology, but I would have thought an inclination to "do things that benefit everyone even if the individualist incentives are weak" is a useful evolutionary trait.

there are lots of things that if you analyse them in abstract, in the third person, it's quite clear what the right thing to do is - in this case, a society in which most people vote is clearly better than one in which very few do. I reckon for most of us it's easy to translate "this is the best thing for people to do" into "this is what I am going to do" because if you think other people ought to obey a rule, there is a consistency in obeying it yourself. Is doing something because you think it is the right thing to do the same as doing something to express an identity? I'm not sure it is, because could imagine some circumstances in which if "your identity" has any persistent meaning, then "doing the right thing" and "expressing your identity" do not overlap, unless you wish to say that wanting to "do the right thing" is itself an identity.

Evan Harper

I don't understand, if you've read Gelman on this, how can you say that voting is instrumentally irrational? Since when does instrumental rationality have anything to do with selfishness?

Luis Enrique

some evolutionary economics for those interested:



@ Evan - fair question. I've rephrased the first par to emphasize that I'm talking about selfish instrumental rationality.
@ Luis - I wouldn't dismiss it as pop biology. It's quite plausible that selfish rationality has been selected against: eg a selfish hunter-gather wouldn't have lasted long.

Steven Clarke

Isn't there a darker side the 'expressive' reason for voting... voted for policies or parties that show you're a good egg, even if those policies are useless or counterproductive?

Isn't it what gives us identity politics and narcissistic voters, rather than a more detached argument about how best to govern ourselves?

Sigmund Aas

I vote because it gives me a very good feeling to think about democracy working. It is pleasant to feel I am doing my civic duty. I do it to honor all those who have died to obtain the right I have (but I certainly don't take it for granted). In other words, the value of the act of voting has extremely high utility for me.

Luis Enrique

I realise my rationale for voting is rather like Kant, also "what would happen if everybody else did that?" reasoning that is right up there with "do unto others as you would wish done unto you" in terms of popular morality.

here's something about different parts of brain being involved when doing the right thing as opposed to doing what incentives are:


Deviation From The Mean

"This reminded me that, from the perspective of self-interested instrumental rationality, voting is irrational"

This 'mystery' can probably be quickly answered by reading the literate about the struggles for universal suffrage.

I am not convinced there is merit in applying the cost benefit analysis to the death of Emily Davidson for example. Though the very thought of doing so may get us a little closer to solving the 'mystery'.


“With the decline of class-based voting, younger people have a weaker norm.”

What's 'class' anymore anyway? My old school's motto is Non Nobis Nati and it was very much on my mind today as I did what little I could to end the sickening abuses of power perpetrated by the wretched scum who supposedly represent 'my class' these days.


The difference between a Conservative win and a Labour win in Derby North was just 43 votes, out of a possible 40,000+

This highlights to me that your vote is nowhere near as insignificant as you suggest.

Of course, you could argue that you are in a seat that never changes; but the national mood that voting doesn't matter, particularly in people to whom it matters most could have been the difference between a conservative majority.

In many ways I believe that voter apathy benefits the conservatives, and for that reason we must fight on both fronts - apathy and fascism.


I don't really care about democracy or who wins even but I still enjoy going to vote.

My suspicion is that a lot of young people don't just because of shyness. They haven't been before and they don't realise that it is really easy and not a big deal.

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