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Mueller: Public Choice III

Disclaimer. Don't rely on these old notes in lieu of reading the literature, but they can jog your memory. As a grad student long ago, my peers and I collaborated to write and exchange summaries of political science research. I posted them to a wiki-style website. "Wikisum" is now dead but archived here. I cannot vouch for these notes' accuracy, nor can I say who wrote them.

Mueller. 2003. Public Choice III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

In Brief

Mueller evaluates three ways around the voter's paradox: 1) redefining rational voter's calculus, 2) relaxing rationality assumption, 3) relaxing self-interest assumption. He discusses the expressive voter hypothesis, the ethical voter hypothesis, and compares them with self-interested theories of voting.


Mueller evaluates multiple studies testing the Downsian model (and modifications) which use survey data, and discusses the results.


The primary explanation for why voters turnout lies in the D and C terms. (D term is the effect of one's vote on the welfare of others). He claims that both the expressive and ethical voter theories do not provide a set of testable propositions (without further elaboration). However, he suggests that behavioural psychology might allow public choice to introduce sociological variables in the model. Similar to others we read (Blais) voters act "as if" they were maximizing a utility function, but strict rational choice models cannot predict this or explain this without modifications and help from other disciplines. He doesn't view rational choice and behavioral theorise as competing, but rather as potentially complementary. The verdict is still out on whether an expressive-ethical voter model could overcome problems of cycling.


Public choice is good at explaining committee voting (when size of voting population is small and people are well informed and can calculate a tangible benefit). The model logically doesn't hold up, as p term goes to zero, p*B term disappears, and "something other than instrumental value of the vote determines whether or not an individual votes".

Comments and Criticism

Mueller starts out with omniscient eye view, making many unsubstantiated claims without argument really, just telling the reader "this is the way the world is" which comes across as arrogant or having an agenda (or both) and not as engaging in sincere political, scientific enquiry. When he speaks of the third person citizen ("one") he cannot be including himself ("dropping down to a lower level of mental performance as soon as he enters the political field"). Mueller (all of us) choose to be political scientists, so of course we pay much more attention. A non-political scientist could argue than Mueller (political scientists) drop down to a lower level of performance as soon as they enter XYZ field (commodities market analysis, reporting on the status of new medical technologies, deaths from a certain type of disease in Africa). Mueller has an implicit moral superiority claim here that paying attention to politicians debating should command more attention than engaging in economic productivity, testing new technologies, dedicating one's attention to other areas of sincere interest/ intent. Does Mueller have an "associative and affective" (verses sophisticated cognitive) response to a new technology's impact on the economy, spread of a rare new disease in Africa, and if so does this make him irresponsible and base (as he says most citizens are regarding political facts)? My point is that people might have a gazillion other things they care more about than politicians slinging mud at each other. Supposedly, for Mueller, higher moral debate occurs among political actors than those testing the benefits of new technologies with tangible benefits for others. Everyone else is stupid and ignorant about what Mueller cares about (political details). Mine is not a unique, but a widespread critique of the "stupid voter" literature which has been around for some time, thus it is surprising he is still writing this way in 2003.

He states (pg. 329) that the C term is fairly uncontroversial, but see our readings last week. Other survey data exists now on p term and theories about the p and B mattering exist (he does not address these challenging claims).

Mueller strangely seems to conflate the choice of political science model with actual citizen behaviour (pg. 331), as if consensus in the academy on an ethical-expressive model would drive citizens to focus on religious issues and thus induce bloody civil wars. Seems to confirm that he needs to step back from this omniscient and omnipotent position of himself in his own mind in order to really say anything of value regarding actual citizen beliefs, trade off calculations, and intelligence for the rest of us. [[]]

Research on similar subjects


Mueller, Dennis (author)Comparative PoliticsTurnoutVotingRational Choice

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