Suddenly, I feel all apathetic and stuff.

From the Society for Political Methodology working paper series:

What is the probability your vote will make a difference?
Gelman, Andrew, Silver, Nate, Edlin, Aaron
Submitted: 2008-10-27
Abstract: One of the motivations for voting is that one vote can make a difference. In a presidential election, the probability that your vote is decisive is equal to the probability your state is necessary for an electoral college win, times the probability the vote in your state is tied in that event. We compute these probabilities for each state in the 2008 presidential election, using state-by-state election forecasts based on the latest polls. The states where a single vote is most likely to matter are New Mexico, Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado, where your vote has an approximate 1 in 10 million chance of determining the national election outcome. On average, a voter in America has a 1 in 60 million chance of being decisive in the presidential election.

(Debate ensues on polmeth list, mainly about whether these numbers go up because of network effects — though I don’t see how they could do so across the board, rather than for particularly well-connected voters, given that other voters have networks too.)

For purposes of comparison, the two California lottery games that have multi-million dollar prizes carry odds of 1 in 175,711,536 (“Mega Millions”) and 1 in 41,416,353 (“Super Lotto Plus”).


5 Responses to “Suddenly, I feel all apathetic and stuff.”

  1. Your Vote is Worthless… Or is It? « Aaron Weingott Says:

    [...] 29, 2008 at 4:32 pm (Uncategorized) Uncommon Priors discusses an article which demonstrates the small likelihood that any one person’s vote in [...]

  2. Kenny Says:

    It seems to me that this means that any theory according to which voting is not a waste of time could not be based on affecting the outcome. This is why I think the ‘wasted vote’ argument against voting for third-party/independent candidates is silly: it’s not like your vote for a major party candidate makes a difference either. The way I see it, voting is about collecting statistics, and it is in all of our best interest that the statistics be accurate, so we should all vote for the candidate we think best, regardless of chances of winning.

  3. Paul Gowder Says:

    The problem with that comes in cases like Florida in 2000. It seems to me that in such a situation, an individual Nader voter isn’t blamable, but the group of Nader voters were blamable. Perhaps one is blamable for wasting one’s vote only when one could expect that others would do likewise?

  4. Kenny Says:

    Well, I don’t think they’re ‘blamable’, but I’m a deontologist. I agree that from a consequentialist perspective you would have to say that they are blamable. (And boy is there a lot of crap to blame them for!)

    At the same time, a lot of people think the two party system is bad, and vote for (bad) major party candidates anyway. The group of people who do that are blamable (under consequentialist assumptions) for the two-party system in the same way the Nader voters in Florida are blamable in the above case. It’s hard to say how many of these people there are, but I think that if everyone voted for the candidate they thought best regardless of ‘viability’ we would see enough 3- and 4-way races to legitimize third parties, which would lead to their getting better qualified candidates (presently most qualified people either don’t waste their time or sell out to major parties), which would lead to them getting more votes, etc. But from the perspective of people trying to influence the outcome, it’s an assurance game.

  5. Uncommon Priors » Why on earth don’t we just reduce the cost of voting like woah? Says:

    [...] Suddenly, I feel all apathetic and stuff. [...]

Leave a Comment