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Published June 1, 2018 | public
Journal Article Open

What Makes Voters Turn Out: The Effects of Polls and Beliefs


We use laboratory experiments to test for one of the foundations of the rational voter paradigm—that voters respond to probabilities of being pivotal. We exploit a setup that entails stark theoretical effects of information concerning the preference distribution (as revealed through polls) on costly participation decisions. We find that voting propensity increases systematically with subjects' predictions of their preferred alternative's advantage. Consequently, pre-election polls do not exhibit the detrimental welfare effects that extant theoretical work predicts. They lead to more participation by the expected majority and generate more landslide elections.

Additional Information

© 2017 The Authors. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Economic Association. This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices). Published: 03 August 2017. We thank Guillaume Frechette, Salvatore Nunnari, Tom Palfrey, the Editor, and two anonymous referees for very useful comments and suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge financial support from the European Research Council (ERC Advanced Investigator Grant, ESEI-249433), the National Science Foundation (SES 0963583), and the Henry and Betty Moore Foundation.

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August 19, 2023
August 19, 2023