• Spencer Greenberg

Is it irrational to vote? (Remember: today's the day if you're American!)


Some have argued that voting is irrational, since the only time it technically changes the election results is if there is a tie. But as 80,000 Hours points out in their thoughtful article on the topic, just 537 votes in Florida determined the outcome of the 2000 election, and a mere 366 votes determined the result in New Mexico that year. Indeed, when local support is close to evenly divided between two parties in your area, your vote can count a surprising amount, a lot more than people realize. There are at least two strong rational reasons to vote.

In major elections like this one, your preferred candidate, if they win, may cause tens of billions of dollars (or even more) to be spent more effectively than the alternative candidate. So even with a 1-in-10-million chance of affecting the outcome — as this paper on the power of swing state voters in the 2008 U.S. election estimated — your one vote could impacting thousands of dollars of spending on average. And if you believe one of the candidates would really mess up your country, or if you're in one of the most crucial and evenly divided states, your vote could be worth a lot more than than.

Of course, there are also very strong social reasons to vote. Others will judge you harshly for not standing behind your convictions, or not taking action on behalf of your country. And today's U.S. election is so hotly contested that if you fail to vote, friends or loved ones may not let you live it down for a long time.

If you are American, we strongly urge you to vote today. Google's convenient Where to Vote tool can help you figure out your voting location. Bring a state ID or passport just in case it is required in your area.

And please keep in mind that voting is especially important if you are in one of the closely divided states where your vote counts an unusually large amount. In this U.S. election, we see this captured in the "voter power index" chart from FiveThirtyEight.com, which shows the "relative likelihood that an individual voter in a state will determine the Electoral College winner." Take a look below.

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