My simple thought on voting

by on November 4, 2008 at 8:50 am in Political Science | Permalink

Most of what you do is for expressive value anyway, so you shouldn’t feel guilty about voting, if indeed you vote.  The people who think they are being instrumentally rational by not voting are probably deceiving themselves more.  They are actually engaged in an even less transparent form of expressive behavior (protest against the voting system) and yet cloaking that behavior under the guise of instrumental rationality.  The best arguments against voting are simply if you either don’t like voting or if you don’t know which candidate is better.  High-status people hardly ever offer the latter justification, even though the split of opinions among high-status people suggests that not all high-status people can in fact know which candidate is better.

In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people.  I am glad that we have an entire day devoted to this very important concept.

1 Scott November 4, 2008 at 9:07 am

From my own end, I left the presidential spot blank for the following reason.

I very much dislike Obama and McCain. Each one will probably do many things I don’t like if elected president.

By not voting (or voting third party), not only are you protesting the bad choices the two parties have given you, but you are additionally exculpated from the undesirable things the next president does. “Don’t blame me, I voted for McCain (assuming Obama wins)” is an absurd statement because it presumes McCain would not do something equally bad if not worse than Obama in which case the converse would be true. By not supporting either one, however, you are not directly responsible for what the next president does.

I think George Carlin expressed it best: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efKguI0NFek

2 Bill November 4, 2008 at 9:13 am

“In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you
are better than other people. I am glad that we have an entire day devoted to this very important
concept.”

So if I vote today for one of the two presidential candidates which I only get to do
every 4 years it is because I think I am better than other people? And if I don’t
vote today, I still think I am better than other people.

My analysis of your premis is that YOU think that YOU are better than ALL others.
What do you think?

3 Randy November 4, 2008 at 9:25 am

“In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people.”

Well, I happen to think that our current government is a gathering of looters, and that my vote would represent a desire to acquire a share of the loot. So to me, not voting makes me a better person than I would be if I voted. But I’m perfectly willing to accept that most of those who vote don’t feel about government the same way that I do. Their values lead them to believe that they are participating in a legitimate process. So, not better, just different.

4 Anonymous November 4, 2008 at 9:34 am

I am glad that we have an entire day devoted to this very important concept.

Tyler, you are such a card.

By not voting (or voting third party), not only are you protesting the bad choices the two parties have given you, but you are additionally exculpated from the undesirable things the next president does.

No. What we need is to have an additional choice: “__ I’m not voting for any of the above because I want this vote counted as a protest.”

My analysis of your premis is that YOU think that YOU are better than ALL others. What do you think?

You are an idiot. And you probably think you are better than other people.

5 Barry Ickes November 4, 2008 at 9:48 am

The only reason to vote may be to express support for democracy if paperless voting machines mean that voting totals can be reversed by 20 lines of source code. Any sensible system would contain a mechanism for conducting audits. Say a random sample of .001 voting machines. But this would require a paper record of the votes cast. And we don’t have that.

Of course a clever programmer could get the paper record to also flip, but that would require a much more clever programmer. We don’t even take precautions against weak fraud.

So I am only going to vote to feel good, knowing that some clever computer programmer has already determined who I really am voting for.
Perhaps I can rest in comfort that in non-Presidential races there is less reason to flip votes, so maybe those votes do count.

6 JH November 4, 2008 at 9:52 am

Not sure if most of you realize it, but your harsh retorts to Tyler are a perfect display of your “I’m better than you” attitude.

7 Laserlight November 4, 2008 at 10:06 am

“not all high-status people can in fact know which candidate is better”.

Better at what? Better at expanding abortion rights or at protecting the unborn? Better at gun control or at Second Amendment rights?
Now, I wouldn’t be all that shocked if some policy questions had an optimal solution. I can imagine someone proving that we’d all be better off if pot was legal but meth was not, or if we built up our navy and reduced our army, or if we allowed abortion up to 23 weeks but not after 24wks. I would be much interested in seeing such results.
In the meantime, I AM better than everyone else, at knowing what my own preferences are.

Not that any of the candidates really line up with my preferences. I ended up voting for what’s-his-name, the Libertarian candidate.

8 Jens Fiederer November 4, 2008 at 10:27 am

Actively indicating your dislike by voting for some fringe guy who doesn’t have a chance has the additional benefit of expressing the DIRECTION of your dislike.

Full disclosure: I voted for Barr.

Thanks for finding my comment worth repeating, even if you DID vote for Nader 🙂

9 londenio November 4, 2008 at 10:50 am

I once said that I did not like voting (I had no choice, in Argentina voting is compulsory!) and someone told me.

“If you do not vote, then you cannot complain if you do not like the policy!”. I will refer this as the Complaint Explanation, hereafter.

I assume that the argument for the Complaint Explanation went: if you vote for A and A gets elected and then does The Wrong Thing, you can tell A : “Hey, I voted for you and now you do The Wrong Thing, I want to complain because you have deceived me and disappointed me!”. If you vote for A and B gets elected, you can complain if B does The Wrong Thing because you can claim moral superiority and good foresight for having not voted for a candidate who is doing The Wrong Thing.

I hate the Complaint Explanation! It cannot be true but I cannot argue against it in a simple way. I would like to ask Tyler, Alex and other illustrated readers to give me some pointers as to how to reply to the Complaint Explanation.

By the way, The Wrong Thing is a very common outcome for policy decisions in Argentina.

10 Robert Olson November 4, 2008 at 10:54 am

I voted Mankiw for President.

No, I am not kidding.

11 Randy November 4, 2008 at 11:05 am

Londenio,

The complaint explanation is propaganda. The political class has an interest in having people believe that they are part of a legitimate process, so they create standard explanations for those who doubt. Its like the standard answers that religious faiths give to their adherents to protect them from the questions of the unbelievers.

12 voting November 4, 2008 at 11:09 am

„Wer sich nicht mit Politik befasst, hat die politische Parteinahme, die er sich ersparen möchte, bereits vollzogen: er dient der herrschenden Partei.“ (Max Frisch)

Translation:

-> “The one not dealing with politics has already made the political decision he wanted to avoid: he serves the ruling party”

13 Randy November 4, 2008 at 11:23 am

Voting,

So not serving the ruling party is now an option? How exactly does one go about that?

14 voting November 4, 2008 at 11:49 am

Randy,

well it’s easy enough. Just vote for the other party. Unfortunally this option is limited to tonight. 🙂

What Frisch means is a bit like “If you do not vote, then you cannot complain if you do not like the policy!” (post by Iondenio) and like “there will be a winner of the election” no matter if you vote or not. So a non-voter could dare to stand up telling “I did not vote this guy!” to all candidates but as well he did not try to avert him…

15 Gabe November 4, 2008 at 12:08 pm

obviously Tyler has already done his part for the ruling party when he spread propaganda saying “the paulson plan is better than nothing”…now that billions are being stolen from us and the money being doled out is kept completely secret, Tyler’s vote is not important.

16 Bill Harshaw November 4, 2008 at 12:25 pm

I wonder, if you’re at a football game, why would you cheer? Is there a rational reason, as opposed to an expressive reason? Cheering may or may not help your team, but it’s certain that one voice in a stadium holding 80,000 has no significance. Surely it’s more rational to sit calmly drinking one’s drink and eating one’s snack and feel superior to the frenzy around you. Save your energy for something with an immediate rational return.

17 Randy November 4, 2008 at 12:46 pm

Dan Tarrant,

So, what you’re saying is that if I do vote, and the people I vote for don’t win, then I don’t have to follow the rules made by the people who do win. I mean, this is what would follow logically from your point… unless, of course, your point is illogical…

18 RJRye November 4, 2008 at 12:56 pm

I had this feeling and I believe the nation somewhat collectively did through the 2000 election. I remember following every detail of the ‘Recount’ not for any care for the outcome but more for the human drama and political junkie aspect. I somewhat regret not realizing that who is President actually affects the outome of the world.

19 John Murphy November 4, 2008 at 1:32 pm

Yes, yes, the two party system is horrible, and participating only makes you part of the problem. But most of the people who say this only say this at election time, and then do little to fix the problem in the two intervening years. So, the penalty for being lazy and not pushing to change the way we vote is… getting to be lazy on election day too? I sense a pattern here.

20 NPTO November 4, 2008 at 1:42 pm

Markets in Everything, American Edition:

I totally respect you libertarian guys who don’t want to vote for lack of an instrumental reason. In fact, I have a proposition for you: would you sell me your vote in the American election?

(and, yes, that´s another reductio etc.)

21 JH November 4, 2008 at 1:54 pm

I put about 10 seconds of thought into it a couple weeks ago and decided that I’d probably sell my vote for about $2/min spent voting. The clock would start when I left my house and would end when I get back to my house.

Of course, I’d probably then drive by a few times during the day to look at the lines and try to pick an extra busy time.

22 Randy November 4, 2008 at 2:25 pm

NPTO,

“…would you sell me your vote in the American election?”

Now you’re talking. Unfortunately, I didn’t register this year. What say we get back together in a couple of years and work out the details. I’m thinking $50 (2hrs at $25/hr). Of course, you’d want to verify… Aren’t there places that give paper receipts? Would that work for you?

23 norm November 4, 2008 at 2:33 pm

Another reason to vote is the small chance that your vote is the vital one. You are the decider. Poor odds; huge payout. To be sure a presidential race that close would be decided by lawyers( although at some point another vote would mean no lawyers involved.) In local races that is not so. Single votes (and more often 3 or 4 votes that one family might cast) do sometimes decide school board, city council and tax elections. These votes do matter for taxes, services, whether a school gets a charter or whether the city takes away more property rights.

Of course, I AM better than others 😉

24 derek November 4, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Also, to the very first poster, leaving the spot blank does not, in fact, effectively communicate your dissatisfaction with the Democrats and Republicans. This is because news organizations typically report the percentages of votes CAST. For example, if 45% of people voted for Republican or Democrats candidates with 10% abstaining, a 50% tie would be reported. Therefore, if you truly wish to do a protest vote, you must vote for a 3rd party candidate, although preferably one who cannot be interpreted as someone stealing votes from a major candidate (so don’t vote for Ron Paul or Ralph Nader; I like Al Sharpton for this role!).

25 voter November 4, 2008 at 3:15 pm

Randy,

“There is no other party.” – oops, I could have sworn there were. So why have an election now?

Well, ok of course you are free to complain nevertheless. But it was more helpful to actually do something before complaining?

26 Scott de B. November 4, 2008 at 3:34 pm

By not voting (or voting third party), not only are you protesting the bad choices the two parties have given you,

The parties haven’t given you the choices, you and your fellow voters decided on the choices, in the primaries.

It astonishes me how many people complain about the choices presented to them and yet do nothing early in the process to help determine the choices available later (not saying this applies to you, but it applies to many).

27 Gabriel November 4, 2008 at 3:43 pm

This conversation is boring. Lets get drunk and make out.

28 Howard November 4, 2008 at 3:55 pm

3. My attempt to avert is based on the atheistic (apolitical) approach. That is, if people stop believing in politicians, their power will fade away.

The problem with this approach is that unlike God, politicians undeniably exist.

Honestly, people who brag about the fact that they don’t vote are as annoying as people who brag about the fact that they don’t have a television. Congratulations: you’re a beautiful and unique snowflake.

29 Jerry November 4, 2008 at 4:33 pm

So, if voting serves no instrumental purpose, all of us here would be just as happy living in an absolute monarchy, right?

30 voter November 4, 2008 at 4:40 pm

Gabriel,

ok, as long as you provide us a free coffee.

31 josh November 4, 2008 at 5:46 pm

scott,

I didn’t decide anything, the marginal voter did.

32 Andrew November 4, 2008 at 6:25 pm

I kept waiting for the sexual punchline. It never came 😮

33 q November 4, 2008 at 6:48 pm

“name me a single economist who authored a bill that was enacted into legislation. no, i don’t mean “influence” a bill. i mean, author one. name one.”

“Authoring a bill” is hardly the only way to effect policy. Economists have had a large influence in the areas of antitrust, securities, banking, and corporate governance, to name a few; not just through legislation, but also through regulatory enforcement as well as judicial decisions. Their influence in those areas is probably larger than any other single academic field.

34 Gong Szeto November 4, 2008 at 6:59 pm

@q
but that’s my point — we don’t get to elect those peeps! we get to elect the president who in turn appoints those peeps! that distinction matters!
@Andrew
sorry, i couldn’t resist.

35 Steve A. November 5, 2008 at 1:50 am

When you vote your voting not for the person (in this case Obama or McCain) but for what they SAY they will do. They don’t even have to necessarily do these things but you don’t and couldn’t know that unless they were elected. If I like what Obama says he will do I’ll vote for him. It’s up to him to do these things. I’m ‘passing the buck’ so to speak. I did my part now it’s your turn.

36 mjh November 5, 2008 at 9:29 am

In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people.

If this is true, then humility is impossible. Even for you, Tyler. Because everyone will either vote or not vote. I’m ready to concede that, in my worst moments, I really do think I’m better than everyone else. But I’m not ready to concede that we are all doomed to this fate. All the time.

I suspect you don’t mean this, and that there’s a distinction that would better express what you do mean.

37 Rahat November 5, 2008 at 10:55 am

I did not vote because I didn’t care for either candidate and I also didn’t want to wait in line for 5 hours!

38 Randy November 5, 2008 at 1:12 pm

Jeremy,

You’re reading way too much between the lines. I simply don’t believe in politicians, and I hope that more people will stop believing in them. I’m actually glad that Obama won. Has there ever been a more obvious con-man to hold the office?

39 Ivan November 6, 2008 at 12:19 am

“In other words, both voting and not voting are motivated by the thought that you are better than other people.”

I know the long campaign has everyone in a tizzy. But this is just dumb. To vote is to state a preference, which does not imply the “you are better than other people,” merely that you have a preference.

Oh nevermind.

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41 yady May 15, 2009 at 11:16 pm

Nobody knows when the politician man is talking truth, when is talking nonsence

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