Skip to main content

Diffusion in Voter Turnout


In modern political United States history, voter participation appears to have been depressed permanently. During the Gilded Age in the late 1800s, one of the most corrupt times of the nation, voter turnout reached as high as 80 percent. By post-Watergate however, it was considered a boon if voter turnout reached 55 percent. As this article from Psychology Today explains, this is in part due to the apathy and pessimism felt by most voters; often, people feel as though their votes don’t matter, be it because of voter suppression, political correctness, or gerrymandering, and stay at home on election day. As people of a certain demographic fail to vote because of these reasons, the more others are reinforced not to vote as well for the same reasons, leading to a sort of self-fulfilling expectations. This article brings that political scientist Yascha Mounk says that America may well be on the path of other faux democracy countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela by bringing up problems such as dark money and the electoral college. Another political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, comes to similar conclusions regarding the future of democracy, which is all the more poignant given his public debut of saying that liberal democracy is the logical conclusion of society.

However, the article urges people to vote, despite feeling that their vote is irrelevant, is that, if everyone were to vote selfishly, then society as a whole would end up worse due to a prisoner’s dilemma. However, a stronger motivator to vote is that more people vote by basis of civic duty, then others would get comfortable voting. A survey done by economists Stefano della Vigna, John List, Ulrike Malmendier, and Guatam Rao confirmed this quantitatively. The survey, done in a neighborhood in South Chicago, found that, on average, a voter valued telling a friend to vote at $3, with a total of $15 by telling, on average, 5 people. This amounted to $30 on presidential elections, a considerable amount for the sample. Furthermore, the people who were told to vote before an election did vote more than those who were not told to vote.

These problems in voter apathy, as well as possible solutions espoused in this article, stem from several ideas that were discussed in networks. As discussed in the article, one problem with voters turnout comes from self-fulfilling expectations. In class, this was discussed with the focus asymmetric information markets. In general, however, self-fulfilling expectations is that, if all the participants in the markets believes one way on a good, then the actual purchases of the good will reflect that way. This the case of low voter turnout, this belief is negative, leading to fewer voters to vote and thus the good, voter participation, will also be low. This article also describes network diffusion in combating low voter turnout. In class, we had dealt with diffusion in network as such: for each node (in this case, voters), there are two choices to decide, which in this context would to vote or not vote. By knowing that others also voted, the network is changed by lowering the threshold to vote as well as changing others to vote. This then causes a cascade effect to vote, similar to the results found in the Chicago survey.


Leave a Reply

Blogging Calendar

November 2018
« Oct   Dec »