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Keywords:

  • voting;
  • projection;
  • counterfactual reasoning;
  • social dilemmas

The decision to vote in a national election requires a choice between serving a social good and satisfying one's self-interest. Viewed as a cooperative response in a social dilemma, casting a vote seems irrational because it cannot have a discernible effect on the electoral outcome. The findings of two studies with undergraduate samples suggest that some people vote not because they set aside self-interest, but because they expect their own behaviors to matter. Two psychological processes contribute to this belief: the voter's illusion (the projection of one's own choice between voting and abstention to supporters of the same party or candidate), and the belief in personal relevance (the belief that one's own vote matters regardless of its predictive value for the behavior of others). The rationality of these two egocentric mechanisms depends on the normative framework invoked. Their relevance for actual voting behavior is indicated by their ability to account for four types of variation in turnout rates.