Voter Turnout (2 Candidates)

Game Description

Back to school! There are competing proposals for clubs at MobLab U. Students are divided between soccer and basketball club proposals, and only one club can be created. To determine which club should be created the faculty at MobLab U asks students to vote. Each student has a preferred club and a choice: Vote or Abstain. Abstention costs the student nothing. On the other hand, voting is costly because students must walk to campus to vote on Saturday. Whichever club receives the most votes will be created. If a student’s preferred club is created they receive 100 points, otherwise the student receives zero points.

Note: The cost of voting is incurred regardless of outcome.

Learning Objective 1: The Paradox of Voting

Voter turnout is often predicted to be low because voting is costly and voters are unlikely to be pivotal. However, voter turnout is often much higher than predicted. Explore this paradox with students.

Learning Objective 2: The Competition Effect

Turnout should be higher in elections that are expected to be closer if everyone votes.

Learning Objective 3: The Underdog Effect

Turnout among supporters of the more popular candidate or party should be less than turnout among the supporters of the less popular candidate.

Learning Objective 4: The Size Effect

An increase in the size of the electorate should lead to lower voter turnout.

Learning Objective 5: The Voting Cost Effect

Lowering the cost of voting improves voter turnout.

Brief Instructions

Each student receives information on their personal cost to voting, group size, and the fraction of the group that holds their preference. Then students make a simultaneous decision to vote or abstain. Individual payoffs are based on the outcome of the election and whether the individual voted or abstained:

In repeated games students receive end of round feedback on their payoff and what fraction of their group voted.

Key Treatment Variations

Party Distribution

Landslide (2:1) or Tossup (1:1). By altering the competitiveness of the election you can alter the probability that an individual is pivotal for their group. The Tossup configuration helps illustrate the competition effect while the Landslide configuration helps illustrate the underdog effect.

Group Size

Increase the group size. The direct utility from voting is discounted by the probability of casting a pivotal vote. Increase group size to make the paradox of voting more evident to students and to demonstrate the size effect that turnout rates are lower in large elections.

Voting Cost

Whether the cost is drawn from a uniform distribution, or is constant across all individuals, show students that lower costs will lead to greater voter turnout.


The top of the summary screen presents information in table form: Round, Total Number of Voters, Total Votes and Turnout Rate for each group, as well as the Winning Candidate and Total Turnout Rate.

Table 1: Aggregate Data

The next graph plots the average margin of victory across rounds. Negative numbers indicate Group B victories.

Graph 1: Distribution of Margin of Victory

The aggregate cost distribution graph is also a multi-round summary that plots how the decision to vote or abstain is related to the cost of voting. On the x-axis are the categories Vote and Abstain and the “Cost of Voting”. On the y-axis is the number of voters with that cost. The bar graph shows the average cost to voting for people in each decision category.

Graph 2: Cost Distribution
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