When do voters regret their choice? What does it tell us about their instrumental and expressive motives?

  • Bol, Damien (King’s College London)
  • Blais, André (Université de Montréal)
  • Laslier, Jean-François (Paris School of Economics)


In this paper, we build upon an original pre- and post-election survey conducted before and after the 2015 Canadian election. The week directly following the election we asked respondents for which party they voted, and whether they regret their choice. We find that 39% of them express some regret. To explain these regrets, we develop a theory that decomposes the instrumental and expressive benefits a voter gets out of her vote, and that assumes that this voter has a mixed-utility composed of the two motives. Regrets arise when the voter realizes in view of the electoral results that she has not stroke the balance properly between the two motives. We test our theory against our data and find that it accounts for the expressed (no-)regrets of a substantial part of the 3,058 respondents. In the conclusion we discuss the implications of our research for the literature on voting behavior, the prevalence of mixed-motives, and the advantage of including a regret question in behavioral surveys.