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Studying collective decision-making by committees,

Modeling the decision to vote in a rational choice context, Anthony Downs pointed out that the act of voting itself is irrational. That conclusion follows because the probability of an individual’s vote determining an election’s outcome is vanishingly small. One person’s vote will tip the scales in favor of the preferred candidate or issue only if the votes of all other voters are evenly split. As the number of voters becomes large, the chances of that happening quickly approach zero, and hence the benefits of voting are likely to be less than the costs. Public choice reasoning thus predicts low rates of voter participation if voters are rational. Indeed, if there is an unsolved puzzle, it is not why turnout in U.S. elections is so low, but why it is so high.

Downs and other public choice scholars also conclude that voters in democratic elections will tend to be poorly informed about the candidates and issues on the ballot. Voter ignorance is rational because the cost of gathering information about an upcoming election is high relative to the benefits of voting. Why should a voter bother to become informed if his vote has a very small chance of being decisive? Geoffrey Brennan and Loren Lomasky, among others, have suggested that people vote because it is a low-cost way to express their preferences. In this view, voting is no more irrational than cheering for one’s favorite sportsteam