Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

On not being obliged to vote Democrat, part 2

Continuing in this series …

The Paradox of Voting and the Bait and Switch

This was trailed in comments … basically, the second point I'd make is that when major party activists put the guilt-trip on minor party supporters[1], they engage in what looks like very fallacious reasoning. The point is that a minor party supporter has three options on election day:

First, stay at home
Second, vote for their minor party
Third, vote Democrat

And the thing is that the major party activist has to steer them between the Scylla and Charybdis of the first two choices, both of which might superficially look more attractive than voting for a candidate you don't support[2]. To do so, they need to make two contradictory arguments.

Obviously the problem to overcome in getting you to drag your ass[3] down to the polling station is the Paradox of Voting. Which isn't really a paradox; it could more accurately be titled "The Actual Extremely Low Expected Value Of Voting". This requires an appeal to your civic sense of duty; remember Martin Luther King, etc. In other words, they need you to see it as your duty to society to vote, or alternatively to see your vote as an important form of political expression.

However, once your ass is duly dragged and you're in the voting booth, the last thing they want you to do is your civic duty (which would be to vote for the candidate you think is the best; that's how voting systems work, strategic or tactical behaviour is a pathology of the system) or political expression (which also wouldn't have you voting for their guy). Once you're there, they want to argue in purely instrumental terms - you have to vote for the Democrats because if you vote for your minority party, you have no chance at all of being the marginal voter.

It looks inconsistent, because it is. Particularly in a midterm election, when you have a very small chance of being the deciding vote for a Congressman who in turn has a very small chance of being the deciding vote on an issue of importance (and given that this is the Democrats we are talking about, you have to take into account votes of importance where your congressman is the swing vote for the wrong side), the expected value of your vote is very small indeed, and the costs of it are the psychological toll on your own morale, plus the opportunity cost of whatever else you might have done with the time. Which will be the subject of part three.

[1] I'm using this term innaccurately to refer to anyone who doesn't support the Democrats, but who might be considering whether to vote for them on lesser-evil grounds, to avoid anything more cumbersome.

[2] Note that in many important cases (including many of the kind of close races where people really start putting the pressure on minor party supporters), the incumbent Democrat you are being exhorted to turn out and vote for might be absolutely atrocious. Because of the absurd lack of aprty discipline in US politics, where it is not even grounds for loss of seniority if someone actively campaigns for the other side, it is entirely likely that in the November election there will be people on "the Left" who are asked in the name of "save our precious healthcare reforms", to vote for Congressional candidates who did their level best to destroy Obamacare.

[3] note American spelling
18 comments this item posted by the management 9/30/2010 08:20:00 AM

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