Please Don't Vote for Me: Voting in a Natural Experiment with Perverse Incentives


  • This article is based on the first chapter of my dissertation at the University of Chicago. I would like to thank the editor, Andrea Galeotti, and three anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions. Moreover, I have benefited from conversations with Gary Becker, Eric Budish, Dana Chandler, Tony Cookson, Roland Fryer, Steven Levitt, Roger Myerson, Elisa Olivieri, Philipp Tillmann and David Toniatti. I am also indebted to Gabriele Schömel at the office of the Bundeswahlleiter for help in acquiring the data used in this article. Steven Castongia and Sathish Kumar provided excellent research assistance. Financial support from the Beryl W. Sprinkel Fund at the University of Chicago is gratefully acknowledged. All views expressed in this article as well as any remaining errors are solely my responsibility.


Whether individuals vote strategically is one of the most important questions at the intersection of economics and political science. Exploiting a flaw in the German electoral system by which a party may gain seats by receiving fewer votes, this article documents patterns of preference misrepresentation in a large, real-world election. During the 2005 elections to the Bundestag, the sudden death of a right-wing candidate necessitated a by-election in one electoral district. Knowing the results in all other districts and given the paradoxical incentives in place, a substantial fraction of the electorate voted for a party other than their most preferred one, or abstained.