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Pocketbook Voting, Social Preferences, and Expressive Motives in Referenda

Johannes Meya, Panu Poutvaara () and Robert Schwager

Discussion Papers in Economics from University of Munich, Department of Economics

Abstract: We develop and test a theory of voting and turnout decisions that integrates self-interest, social preferences, and expressive motives. Our model implies that if pocketbook benefits are relevant, voters either perceive their impact on the outcome to be non-negligible, or expressive motivations do not play a role in the decision on how to vote. Conversely, if own pocketbook benefits do not explain voting, then voting is expressive. If the perceived probability of being pivotal is non-negligible, social preferences and expressive concerns are observationally equivalent. Our empirical analysis studies collective choices which are analogous to decisions on local public goods. We consider referenda among university students on whether to collectively purchase deeply discounted flat rate tickets for public transportation and cultural amenities. Individual usage data allow quantifying the monetary benefits associated with each ticket. As voters had precise information on the individual costs and benefits, our setting comprises a real-world laboratory of direct democracy. We find that monetary benefits strongly influence participation and voting. However, social or expressive motives, such as stated altruism, environmental concerns, and paternalism, are decisive for a significant minority. Our results rule out purely expressive voting and imply that a substantial share of the electorate perceived their impact on the outcome to be non-negligible.

Keywords: pocketbook voting; social preferences; expressive voting; instrumental voting; public goods; altruism; referendum (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: D72 H41 D64 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-cdm, nep-pol and nep-soc
Date: 2017-05
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Working Paper: Pocketbook voting, social preferences, and expressive motives in referenda (2017) Downloads
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