Mike Kueber's Blog

February 16, 2012

Creating incentives for civic involvement

Filed under: Issues,Politics — Mike Kueber @ 1:24 pm
Tags: ,

For a large number of years (the Clinton, Bush-43, and Obama administrations), Republicans and Democrats seemingly disagree about everything.  On virtually every issue, they find a way to fundamentally disagree instead of finding even a patch of common ground. 

One of the best recent examples of the political parties getting into a pissing match concerns all of the Voter ID laws that were introduced or passed following the Republican landslide in 2010.  Republicans claim that the laws help to reduce voter fraud, which is undeniably a good thing.  Democrats, however, counter that the laws will do more harm (suppress voting) than good (the amount of voter fraud is trivial).  Cynical pundits point out that underlying all of this principle is the practical fact that Voter ID laws will suppress predominantly Democratic voters.

As a principled conservative, I am opposed to suppressing voters.  But I have previously blogged against efforts to encourage voting by the uninformed, and there was an article recently in the NY Times that seemed to be in favor of that.   The article was titled, “Making Good Citizenship Fun.” 

According to the article, it makes sense for government to encourage people to engage in good civic behavior.  After discussing various incentives used by businesses to get people involved (lotteries, frequent-flier miles), the article surmises:

  • The moral here is simple. If governments want to encourage good citizenship, they should try making the desired behavior more fun.”

I think Republicans and Democrats can find common ground here.  We all want to see more people vote, and although gimmicks might draw some uninformed voters to the polls, my intuition tells me that people who are planning to vote (even if motivated by a gimmick) will have a tendency to pay more attention to issues and candidates that they will eventually vote on. 

Incidentally, after voting in San Antonio, we are given a little oval sticker that says, “I voted.”  I stick it to the inside of my wallet, and it makes me feel good to see that sticker whenever I open my wallet (which I don’t often do, according to my friends who know me best).  As one of my favorite economics professors used to say, “Incentives matter.”



  1. Personally, I do NOT want incentivized voters. If civic responsibility isn’t sufficient, they needn’t vote. Whether a sticker, a lottery ticket, a band, or a beer, if that is the motivator for the vote the vote isn’t likely to be well informed.

    I would wish that people who vote actually have reasons for the vote(s) cast. Pollyannaish? Sure, but let’s not make the process even less sensible.

    Comment by bobbevard — February 16, 2012 @ 3:17 pm | Reply

    • If this is what you want, then you want private online voting where there is no outward acknowledgement that voting has occurred. The act of going to the precinct and getting the sticker is an incentive in itself, because people like being seen as having voted. Studies show that when voting is performed in a completely private way and no outsiders can see it, voting participation goes waaay down because a significant part of people’s reason for voting is being seen by other people.

      Despite having very strong political opinions, I don’t vote. Because as any good economist will tell you, voting in all but the most local of elections is irrational.

      Comment by Will — February 18, 2012 @ 6:59 pm | Reply

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