Looking back at all the elections I've had the opportunity to vote in, there has never been one whose outcome I affected in any way. My voting has never even changed the vote percentages in any perceptible way. If I decided to never vote again, democracy wouldn't notice. It would certainly be in my best interest not to vote. Voting is a pain. I have to drive to the polling place, stand in line, then drive home.1 I'm a busy guy.
Voting is a societal dilemma. For any single individual, there are no benefits to voting. Yes, your vote counts—it just doesn't matter. The rare examples of small elections decided by one vote don't change the central point: voting isn't worth the trouble. But if no one voted, democracy wouldn't work.
Still, people vote. It makes sense if 1) the voters see a difference between the two candidates, and 2) they care at least a little bit about the welfare of their fellow citizens. Studies with actual voters bear this out.2
|Societal Dilemma: Voting.|
|Society: Society as a whole.|
|Group interest: A robust democracy.||Competing interest: Do what you want to do on election day.|
|Group norm: Vote.||Corresponding defection: Don't bother voting.|
|To encourage people to act in the group interest, society implements these societal pressures:
Moral: People tend to feel good when they vote and bad when they don't vote, because they care about their welfare and that of their fellow citizens.
Caring about the welfare of your fellow citizens ...