The Journal of Politics


Altruism and Turnout

James H. Fowlera1

a1 University of California, Davis


Scholars have recently reworked the traditional calculus of voting model by adding a term for benefits to others. Although the probability that a single vote affects the outcome of an election is quite small, the number of people who enjoy the benefit when the preferred alternative wins is large. As a result, people who care about benefits to others and who think one of the alternatives makes others better off are more likely to vote. I test the altruism theory of voting in the laboratory by using allocations in a dictator game to reveal the degree to which each subject is concerned about the well-being of others. The main findings suggest that variation in concern for the well-being of others in conjunction with strength of party identification is a significant factor in individual turnout decisions in real world elections. Partisan altruists are much more likely to vote than their nonpartisan or egoist peers.

(Online publication April 25 2005)

(Accepted December 20 2005)

James H. Fowler is assistant professor of political science, University of California-Davis, Davis, CA 95616.