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The Swing Voter s Curse Timothy J Feddersen Wolfgang Pesendorfer October 1995 Forthcoming American Economic Review Abstract We analyze two candidate elections in which some voters are uncertain about the realization of a state variable that affects the utility of all voters We demonstrate the existence of a swing voter s curse less informed indifferent voters strictly prefer to abstain rather than vote for either candidate even when voting is costless The swing voter s curse leads to the equilibrium result that a substantial fraction of the electorate will abstain even though all abstainers strictly prefer voting for one candidate over voting for another In the 1994 State of Illinois elections there were 6 119 001 registered voters Among those registered to vote only 3 106 566 voted in the gubernatorial race and only 2 144 200 voted on a proposed amendment to the state constitution 1 There is nothing exceptional about the level of participation in the 1994 Illinois elections As in most large elections in the United States a substantial fraction of the registered electorate abstained from voting at all and of those who did vote a substantial fraction rolled off i e did not vote on every item listed on the ballot 2 While abstention and roll off are ubiquitous features of elections together they pose a challenge to positive political theory One obvious explanation of abstention is costs to vote However if voting is costly since it is extremely unlikely that one person s vote changes the outcome it is difficult to understand why so many people vote Conversely if voting is not costly the problem is to explain why so many people abstain This is the paradox of notvoting 3 The solution proposed by Anthony Downs 1957 and by William H Riker and Peter C Ordeshook 1968 4 is that perhaps voting is costly for some citizens but not for others This explanation for participation patterns runs into trouble however as an explanation for roll off Presumably most of the costs to vote

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