Just 537 votes in Florida would have been enough to change the outcome of the 2000 election from George Bush to Al Gore – a margin of 0.009% (recount pictured above). And that wasn’t even the closest-won state that year: in New Mexico the margin was a mere 366 votes.
People say it’s your civic duty to vote, but it also seems like it’s very unlikely your vote will make a difference.
Who is right? Is voting really valuable, or a waste of time?
We looked into the research on this, especially regarding the US Presidential election. The answer, surprisingly, is that the single hour you spend voting for the President and Congress can be the most important thing you do with an hour each four years – and we expect similar numbers for other kinds of elections outside the USA. It also looks like there are effective techniques you can use to ‘get out the vote’, if you want to do more than just vote yourself.
The impact of your vote largely depends on 2 things, which we’ll investigate in turn:
- The chances of your vote changing the election outcome.
- How much better for the world as a whole one candidate is, compared to another.
At first blush it might seem that the chances of your single vote changing the election outcome are zero. But while the chances are low, they could be around 1 in 10 million if you live in a swing state.