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Following Through on an Intention to Vote: Present Bias and Turnout

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 November 2018

Seth J. Hill*
Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


Many citizens express an intention to vote but then fail to follow through on their motivation. It is well known that impulsiveness contributes to unsound behaviors with adverse individual consequences like smoking, overeating, and undersaving. I apply these findings and theory to political participation and argue that present bias is also likely to limit collective behaviors. Those who desire to act are challenged by impulsiveness in following through on their motivation. In a nationally representative survey merged to administrative records, those with present bias are around ten points less likely to vote. Importantly, those with present bias are less likely to vote even after expressing pre-election intention to do so. Along with a formal decision-theoretic model of turnout with present bias, the results provide a new framework to reason about the choice to vote, an alternative interpretation of the over-report of turnout, and have implications for policy approaches to promote individual action in the public interest.

Research Note
Copyright © The European Political Science Association, 2018

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