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A Psychologically Based Model of Voter Turnout


  • Ming Li, 1455 Boul. de Maisonneuve O., Department of Economics, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada H3G 1M8 (

  •  We thank audiences at Duke University, University of British Columbia, University of Wisonsin–Madison, Midwest Economic Theory Meeting–East Lansing, Far Eastern Meeting of the Econometric Society–Beijing, Third Asian General Equilibrium Workshop–Taipei for helpful comments. We want to thank particularly Kim-Sau Chung, Arianna Degan, Sid Gordon, Jing Li, Eric Maskin, Santiago Oliveros, Larry Samuelson, Bill Sandholm, and Tsung-Sheng Tsai for stimulating discussions.

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    CBS News, November 13, 2000. Since it was a national poll, many of these voters reside in states where the election result was not in dispute.


We analyze a psychologically based model of voter turnout. Potential voters experience regret if they fail to vote, which is the motivation for participation in voting. Regret from abstention is inversely related to the margin of victory. Voters on the winner's side experience less regret than those on the loser's side. We show that the unique equilibrium involves positive voter turnout. We show that the losing side has higher turnout. In addition, voter turnout is positively related to importance of the election and the competitiveness of the election. We also consider scenarios in which voters are uncertain about the composition of the electorate's political preferences and show similar phenomena emerge.