• An Introduction to Voting Paradox or Why Do You Even Thinking About Voting?

    Imagine that you are a voter in a general election for the newest legislative members. Suppose that you dedicate your own time to know each particular candidates in order to vote as an informed voter. You further realize that individually, your voting will be pretty much insignificant, you can't and will never know whether your voting will be a decisive one in case there are a lot of voters (let us just say that in the context of Indonesia, there are around 60 million voters). Calculating all the costs for doing your personal research and doing the act of vote itself plus your understanding of how insignificant your vote is, would you still call yourself as a rational being if in the end, you still vote? (To shed some light, the typical definition of rationality used in this discussion is the definition used by economist, rational person means a person who act for his own best interest)

    This is the basic premise of the Voting Paradox's concept, at least the first part of it (I'll deal with the second part later). It genuinely asks why rational people vote even though the circumstances show that it's an useless act and costly. Is this a solid evidence that people are irrational? Or is there something else that we miss? From what I have read, there are a lot of explanations for this behavior, but no solid answers. Nevertheless, for the sake of discussion, I guess it would not be a problem if I share some of these theories to my readers. Maybe one of you can provide a better explanation.

    Voting as a Way to Express Your Voice
    The first theory argues that people vote because it is a way to express their voice. It might not be effective, but hey, people have not found a better way anyway, so why don't with stick with voting? Under this theory the act of voting is considered as a type of consumption. The satisfaction of voting comes from the act of voting itself, i.e. shouting your opinion and hoping that somehow your voice matters. At first, I consider this as a ridiculous theory, but then I realize, I'm doing the same with my blog :p

    What can we conclude from this theory? Since the rationality is derived from the satisfaction of doing the act of voting, such satisfaction comes with certain expectation, there is an inherent cost and benefit analysis here. If you know the probability of your vote being significant is small, and thus the benefits of voting are uncertain, you would be less likely to vote if the costs of doing so are increased. A simple conclusion but apparently this is supported by some empirical findings. Some good examples, people are less likely to vote in a rainy day or if the voting location is too far from their home or if the registration process is too complicated.

    Voting as a Strategic Act

    The second theory argues that people vote when they think it is a strategic one. I would guess that the applicability of this theory is limited. First, there are not many occasions where voting can be a strategic one, such as in a election where the results will be close. Second, while this might work in smaller groups, it is difficult to asses when your voting will be a strategic one in terms of big elections.

    Voting Due To Group Mobilization

    The third theory's basic argument is simple, people vote due to group "pressures". I can agree with this. Sometimes, group pressures is the best way to encourage people to vote, whatever the platform of the group is. And I have a very good example of this behavior. In my university days, I saw how the University's Islamic student organization encouraged their members to vote for their candidates for student senates and they were quite persuasive in doing this (although persuasive might be an understatement). And these guys have won the election for many times. How can they win the election even though they are not the majority? Well it seems, being "rational people," the other students chose not to participate in the voting process, thus, giving a major benefit to the groups who vote militantly. This end result actually has a strong connection with our last theory.

    Voting as A Game of Cat and Mouse

    Suppose that we know that most people are rational and there is a huge probability that they will not vote since it's an useless act. In this kind of situation, what will you think? If you vote now, you voice will absolutely matter! You will be the determinant of the voting result. But then again, when all the people think the same, we'll back to square one, i.e. people are returning to the voting chambers, meaning your voice becomes worthless again. See how this resembles a game of cat and mouse?

    It should be noted, however, that while this game can be cyclical in theory, in practice it can actually alter the end results. My case of the Islamic student organization is a good example. Other students didn't vote, they were skeptical with the election. Now, as a rational person, what would you do in the place of the Islamic student organization? Of course the answer is: gathering all the like minded people to vote for your interest and beat the majority that have chosen not to vote.


    So, in the end, can we say that voting is an irrational act? Is there any Voting Paradox? I still don't have an exact answer. But my gut feeling says that voting is a rational act. My reason is simple, as long as the costs of doing so is not that significant, you should always vote and even better, encourage other people to vote too. And when calculating the cost of voting, you must also calculate the costs of not voting, such as getting people that you hate to lead you, or even worse, getting incompetent people that will ruin your life  as your leader and you don't have any mechanism to put them down other than a bloody revolution (yeah, I'm talking about our honorable members of legislative board). I guess this is something that missing from the equation. There are costs and benefits of voting, but on the other side, there are also costs and benefits of not voting. To be an informed voter, we need to calculate both, or else, you'll end up thinking that you a are rational person, though in reality, you're just an ignorant fool.

    Note: Most of my materials are derived from Stearns & Zywicki's Public Choice - Concepts and Applications in Law. A highly recommended book for the student of Public Choice Theory and anyone interested with Public Policy.

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