Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

By the Numbers: A formula for Election Day

November 8, 2011 by Holly Munson



Photo via Vaguely Artistic on Flickr

Editor’s Note: By the Numbers is a feature of Constitution Daily that extracts thought-provoking data from the news. Whether you’re following us in school, at your place of work, or at home, By the Numbers provides data you can use to shape an opinion or start a civic conversation.

Excuses, excuses: just why do some citizens end up not voting? In the 2010 congressional elections, 27 percent of people who hadn't voted said they were simply too busy, while 16 percent said they didn't feel their vote would make a difference (data from U.S. Census).

So what exactly does get people out to the polls? Some studies have suggested that we can actually calculate voters' motivations By the Numbers—with this simple equation*:

PB + D > C

Here's what it means: P is the probability that a person's vote will affect the outcome of an election. B represents the perceived benefit of the person's preferred candidate winning. D can stand either for democracy and civic duty, or for a sense of gratification for voting. Finally, C represents the time and effort involved in voting. Typically, the D part of the equation—a sense of civic duty or gratification—has to outweigh the C part of the equation, or time and effort, for someone to vote.

Today is Election Day, and the good news is this: YOU have the power to make this equation add up. Happy voting!

For those who need info on their polling location and candidate comparisons, here are two useful sites:

* Source: William H. Riker and Peter Ordeshook, "A Theory of the Calculus of Voting," American Political Science Review. 1968. 62:25-42.

 Holly Munson works in Public Programs at the National Constitution Center.

Sign up for our email newsletter