We conducted a mixed lab and field experiment during a naturally occurring election. We offered subjects the opportunity to relinquish their voting rights for money. Significantly more participants refused to sell their rights than later participated in the election. Subjects were more willing to accept money for abstention from voting, than for giving up the right to vote itself. In a second experiment we gave subjects an incentive to submit a vote. Before and after the election we measured participants 'knowledge about the parties' and their positions. Even though they would not have voted without the incentive, the participants improved their knowledge suggesting that they valued their vote. Our findings show that people derive strong utility from their democratic rights and status as a voter independently of participation in the election. Based on our results we develop a new concept of rights utility and conclude that low turnout does not translate into democratic apathy and should not be used to justify quorum rules and restrict direct participatory rights.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Tontrup, Stephan and Morton, Rebecca, "The Value of the Right to Vote" (2015). New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers. 536.