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Why Do We Vote? Evidence on Expressive Voting


Sherif,  Raisa
Public Economics, MPI for Tax Law and Public Finance, Max Planck Society;

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Sherif, R. (2022). Why Do We Vote? Evidence on Expressive Voting. Working Paper of the Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance, No. 2022-04.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000C-C5D3-7
Despite the likelihood of an individual vote changing the final outcome is close to zero and voting is not costless, we see significant voter turnout in elections. Voters are often guided by reasons other than changing the outcome, collectively called the ‘expressive motives’. This paper uses an online survey conducted in the United States to identify several expressive voting motives and quantify the relative importance of each of them. One of the main reasons for respondents go to polls is the desire to be part of the democratic process irrespective of whether they can change the outcome. Many of the respondents also believe that if they do not vote, they cannot complain about the government or the state of the democracy at a later stage. Individuals who belong to minority groups are likely to state that they turn out to vote because voting is a privilege not extended to past generations. The likelihood that an individual votes expressively is positively correlated with other expressive political behaviours like donations to political parties, participating in a demonstration, and posting political opinions online. Older individuals and those with higher income and education levels are also more likely to state that they engage in expressive voting.