Freakonomics of Voting:

Last weekend I finally read Freakonomics. If you haven't read it yet, it really is just as good as it has been made out to be. And it can be read in a weekend.

There is also a lot of great stuff recently on the Freakonomics blog. Just in time for Election Day tomorrow (check your local stations) they have a post on why people vote and in a similar electoral vein, Levitt concludes that according to his research, Richard Daley actually did not steal the 1960 Presidential election for JFK.

Mitchell Freedman (mail) (www):

1. Greenberg's article in Slate (cited in the Freakonomics blog) is wrong about Illinois being enough to put Nixon over the top. JFK's 303 electoral votes already included California for Nixon. Thus, if Illinois had tipped Nixon's way, JFK still would have won the Electoral College vote. Thus, Daley's corruption in Chicago, if true, was not the pivotal factor for JFK winning the electoral college vote.

2. There is a story that Daley told JFK he was delaying releasing the count because "down state" Republicans were coming up with surprisingly high turnouts, which Daley said showed the Republicans were stuffing the ballots in areas they controlled. If Daley was stuffing ballots, as I believe he probably was, he was doing so at least partly because Republicans were doing the same.

3. The more interesting question Greenberg raises in his Slate article concerns Alabama, where the structure of the electoral college vote appears to have had little if any correspondence to the actual vote--and that Kennedy likely lost the popular vote in Alabama.
11.7.2005 11:21am
Zywicki (mail):
It would be interesting to know what methodology Levitt used to test the "voter fraud" hypothesis. I assume it was something like the chapter on "cheating teachers" in the book, which was really quite ingenious.
11.7.2005 11:58am
MCG (mail) (www):
The argument the Freakonomics authors presented in The New York Times Magazine, that people vote because of social pressure and fear of others' negative responses to their not voting, is just plain conceptually impoverished. They have no notion of political organization, social cohesion, or human beings' delight in exercising their civic responsibilities.

I do not vote to avoid others' negative responses to my not voting, because nobody cares whether I vote or not. I live on the Upper East Side in New York City, the most densely-populated area in the United States. It is so densely-populated that on election day there are polling places every three or four blocks. Nevertheless, each polling place is so crowded that I have never seen a single person I knew when I went to vote. Nor has anyone I know ever asked me whether or not I had voted.

Contrary to the Freakonomists' suggestion, I vote for the sheer soul-satisfaction of it. Voting is one of the few times when I feel as a New Yorker that I am a member of a civic body. We the citizens are acting together when we vote. Human beings like that feeling.

Aristotle said that man is a political animal, and that someone who tries to live outside society is either a beast or a god. The Freakonomists talk as though men were not political animals, as though there were no such thing as the body politic, and as though cities had no political or psychic function except doling out rewards and punishments. They will have to choose: beast or god. Their a-political analyses do not explain the actions of political animals like me.

Mary Campbell Gallagher
11.7.2005 1:06pm
Alex R (mail):
It seems easy to refute the argument that it is irrational to vote with a simple example:

Suppose that a majority (say, 60%) of the electorate consists of rationalists who prefer candidate A, a rationalists. The other 40% of voters we assume to be "irrationalists" who always vote, and prefer candidate B, an irrationalist.

A rationalist, deciding whether or not to vote, according to Dubner and Levitt, should consider only his or her own vote, and will decide that his or her own vote will not affect the election outcome, and therefore will not vote.

But if the "rational strategy", followed by the rationalists, is not to vote, then the candidate preferred by the rationalists will surely lose. A rationalist who assumes that his or her fellow rationalists will come to the same strategic conclusion will conclude that the *correct* rational strategy is to vote, because if the rationalists all follow this strategy, their preferred candidate will win.

In the real world, of course, people use a wide range of reasoning in deciding whether or not to do things, so a rationalist can not assume that other rationalists will reason the same way. But if you assume that your own potential vote represents those who "think the same way" as you do, then it still makes sense to vote.
11.7.2005 2:21pm
Michael Williams (mail) (www):
Plus, economists' smug group-think has politically castrated their profession. The vote of one economist may not mean much, but the votes of the thousands of economists in the country certainly could. Not to mention the other smug people that economists convince not to vote.
11.8.2005 12:56pm
Carl Sanders (mail):
There are often misunderstandings about what economics claims about human behavior, and here we have another example. No one disputes that some people vote because they derive some sort of satisfaction from it, but give this does not imply that the hypothesis "People do not vote out of self-interest, but instead because 'man is a political animal'" does any better under empirical testing than the Levitt hypothesis "People vote out of fear of being considered 'poor citizens' by their peers."

Both theories are abstractions of the reality, which is that many people do (including me) feel that voting is a good thing in general, while some just want social recognition, and some may erroneously believe that their vote will matter in the end. I think that Levitt may in fact overstate this (and other conclusions) by claiming that people have all these quasi-secret selfish desires, instead of keeping it to more general aggregate statement about what incentives do. Still, the test of a theory is whether it makes good predictions about the phenomena it is meant to explain, and I've not seen anything refuting this work.
11.8.2005 1:07pm
I just love it when certain groups complain that people are voting against their self-interest (i.e. poor people voting Republican). From my view point, I can see why poor people might think that voting Republican is in their best interest.

On my more cynical days, I like to interpet the statement about poor people voting against their own self-interest to mean "We are offering the poor more money [bigger bribes], but for some reason they are voting for the person that is not trying to bribe them."
11.10.2005 8:33pm