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Evolution & voting: how nature makes us public spirited

By John P. Conley, Ali Toossi and Myrna Holtz Wooders

Abstract

We reconsider the classic puzzle of why election turnouts are persistently so high when formal analysis strongly suggests that rational agents should not vote. If we assume that voters are not making systematic mistakes,the most plausible explanation seems to be agents receive benefits, from the act of voting itself. This is very close to assuming the answer, however, and immediately begs the question of why agents feel a warm glow from participating in the electoral process. In this paper, we approach this question from an evolutionary standpoint. We show for a range of situations that public-spirited agents have an evolutionary advantage over those who are not as public-spirited. We also explore when this kind of altruistic behavior is disadvantageous to agents. The details depend on the costs of voting, the degree to which agents have different preferences over public policies and the ratio of various preference types in the population, but we conclude that evolution may often be a force that causes agents to internalize the benefits their actions confer on other

Topics: HB, QA, JF
Publisher: University of Warwick, Department of Economics
Year: 2001
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:1581

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