Why You Should Vote to Change the Outcome

Philosophy and Public Affairs 48 (4):422-446 (2020)
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Abstract

Prevailing opinion—defended by Jason Brennan and others—is that voting to change the outcome is irrational, since although the payoffs of tipping an election can be quite large, the probability of doing so is extraordinarily small. This paper argues that prevailing opinion is incorrect. Voting is shown to be rational so long as two conditions are satisfied: First, the average social benefit of electing the better candidate must be at least twice as great as the individual cost of voting, and second, the chance of casting the decisive vote must be at least 1/N, where N stands for the number of citizens. It is argued that both of these conditions are often true in the real world.

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Zach Barnett
University of Notre Dame

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