Is your vote for Prez worthless?

According to the polling site, the chance of your vote deciding the election is one in 10 million, even if you live in a swing state like Virginia or Colorado. Why bother voting at all? In 2004, Slate's resident mathematician, Jordan Ellenberg, crunched the numbers and explained why voting does make rational sense. The article is reprinted below.

Let's say, for the sake of argument, you were among the 72,000 people who participated in the Guinness-certified world's largest chicken dance in Canfield, Ohio, in 1996. You probably feel pretty proud. But according to Slate's Stephen E. Landsburg, you shouldn't. After all, unless a previous chicken dance for 71,999 were on the books, your participation made no difference; the record would have fallen whether or not you'd shown up.

Landsburg is arguing against voting, not chicken-dancing: Your presidential vote, he says, "will never matter unless the election in your state is within one vote of a dead-even tie." That, of course, is extremely unlikely. So, the negligible chance of casting the deciding ballot is outweighed by the small but certain costs of voting, like the gas you'll use and the time you'll spend.

And yet people vote anyway, by the millions. Political scientists call this conundrum "the paradox of voting," and you could stay up half the night (I just did) reading research literature on the subject. Why do people vote when it's so unlikely to matter?

Maybe because the pleasurable feeling of doing one's duty offsets the cost of gas. Maybe because people have an interest in their candidate not just winning but winning by as large a margin as possible. Maybe because we're motivated to avoid even small possibilities of regret—the regret that those Al Gore supporters who sat out Florida in 2000 surely feel, whether economists think they're being rational or not.

{;-) Dan in Miami

PS:  Yes I did vote today!

PPS:  And yes it does give me a feeling of smug satisfaction.



Did you like this post? Vote Up or Down.

If we don't vote then the terrorists have won!

Rajah's picture

Voting gives me the right to bitch afterwards

Also it's your civic duty

Yeah, I know it sometimes seems the election is rigged

I live in a red state that I hope will turn blue this time around

We deserve a break, we're pass due!

If McCain and that bitch win I'm committing sewercide

I'll stuff my body with crab meat and let the kitties eat me to death

So long cruel world...........meow!

That's it! If Rajah is gonna slink off

RidingFool's picture

then I'm gone too!

Can't really say why I vote...

MH's picture

Self-satisfaction, acting as if my vote matters, etc.  Granted, I live in a deep blue state, but even though my vote for Obama won't really make a difference, I'm gonna vote for him anyways (I want his popular vote total to be as high as possible).  Also, there are various ballet measures which I plan to vote for or against (the one that's probably the best known is Prop 8, which I'm voting against because I figure if gays want to get married they should be able to...)

Bush and Cheney should be forced to wear tutus when they leave

Rajah's picture

I'd vote for that ballet measure!

Your vote for Prez is only worthless...

Kangagang's picture

...if you vote Republican!


Another resident of a perpetually blue state. . .

Marion's picture

But I couldn't agree more on the popular vote count. I fear anything less than a complete drubbing will enable Republicans (this time) to carry on the new tradition of questioning the integrity of the process and the accuracy of the count after the fact. Which is not to say I don't believe some shady shit has gone down the past two prez elections. Seems pretty obvious to all but the staunchest Conservative ostriches. But if their candidate is the one sent packing instead, won't the elephants simply pout "turnabout is fairplay"? Won't they do their best to find some god damn thing to cast doubt on the accuracy/fairness of the results? And if it's legit, they obviously have the right to cry foul - but if the numbers in contention are too low to make a difference anyway, we can just immediately let it go. Wouldn't it be nice? Wouldn't it be nice if this time, there were no bullshit, no lingering questions? The audacity of hope!

More Democrats are voting early for this election

Dan_in_Cincinnati's picture

For those of you who say the only poll that matters is the one on election day, things look better for the Dems than in 2004.  Early voting has been very heavy in my home state of Florida.  Probably because people are fed up with election day screw ups.  They think they will have a better chance of having their vote counted if they do it before November 4.

Colorado early voting
Votes cast: 1,291,571         
Dem:    38.6%
Rep:    36.7%

Florida 2008 early voting
Votes cast: 3,360,088
Dem:  45.6%    
Rep:   38.2%

Florida 2004 early voting

Dem:  40.7%

Rep:  43.5%


Iowa early voting
Votes cast: 400,829
Dem:  48.3%
Rep:   28.6%
No/Other: 23.1%


{;-) Dan in Miami

Dan, I sure hope you voted for Obama

Coaster's picture

Otherwise, you wasted a wasted your vote. 


I live in Flori-duh

Dan_in_Cincinnati's picture

A secret ballot here means even the person voting doesn't know for sure who will get their vote.  Seeing as how the Republican Party tries their best to flip computer votes.


{;-) Dan in Miami

So then only 3 people should be allowed to vote in every state..

TMundo's picture

...Maybe the bigger states can get more people, just becuse their bigger, or maybe we could do it by population.  but how would these people decide which way to vote?  Oh, they could vote whatever way the population votes.  It could be like a a giant ...ummm...electorial...ummm,

Let the supremes decide!

RidingFool's picture

They decided in 2000.

So, election day should be a paid holiday...

TMundo's picture

...because it's so important, and maybe some of the lazy non-voters would vote if they got a day off from work.

Republicans : prepare to be annihilated!

Kangagang's picture

All your base are belong to us.

Say it loud, say it proud US citizens!

Kangagang's picture



GOP loses Dixville Notch, NH. The carnage begins!!

Kangagang's picture

Obama 15, McBush 6

No, Kangey. Not quite.

Coaster's picture

That's President Barack HUSSEIN Obama!  I'm going to say it that way every time I'm in the presence of of an ignorant-ass Republican* just to get under their ever thinning skin. After all, I had to put of with Dumbya for 8 years and It's payback time, baby!


*Disclaimer:  Yes, I know that not all Republicans are "ignorant-ass", just those who think Fox is a news organization. 

Those of us out in the colonies

RidingFool's picture

anxiously await the latest Supreme Court decision.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.