Expressive Voting and Its Cost: Evidence from Runoffs with Two or Three Candidates

by Vincent Pons and Clémence Tricaud

Overview — This paper highlights the motivations and consequences of citizens voting for lower-ranked candidates in elections held under plurality rule. Findings show that a large fraction of voters are what the authors call expressive. Expressive voters vote for their favorite candidate even if it causes the defeat of their second-best choice.

Author Abstract

In French parliamentary and local elections, candidates ranked first and second in the first round automatically qualify for the second round, while a third candidate qualifies only when selected by more than 12.5% of registered citizens. Using a fuzzy RDD around this threshold, we find that the third candidate attracts both “switchers,” who would have voted for one of the top two candidates if she were not present, and “loyal” voters, who would have abstained. Switchers vote for the third candidate even when she is very unlikely to win. This disproportionately harms the candidate ideologically closest to her and causes his defeat in one fifth of the races. These results suggest that a large fraction of voters value voting expressively over behaving strategically to ensure the victory of their second best. We rationalize our findings by a model in which different types of voters trade off expressive and strategic motives.

Paper Information