Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Fallacy of the "Wasted" Vote

If you are like most people, you might say something like:

"The way I see it, there are only two possible outcomes in any election: either the Democrat will win or the Republican will win. I vote for one of these two because I do not want to waste my vote on someone who has no chance of winning."

Roughly 80% of Americans use this procedure when deciding how to vote, and this is unfortunate. Voting for a candidate other than your true favorite has the EXACT OPPOSITE of the desired effect. Let's see why...

"But I don't want to vote for someone who can't win."
Voting for a candidate other than your favorite has the exact opposite of the desired effect. If your beliefs exactly match those of some particular candidate, then you ought to vote for them. Of course, this never happens, so you have to pick the lesser, or the least, of several evils.

Suppose you, and people like you, almost always vote for candidates from one of the two major parties. If you do this, the optimal strategy for the parties is to IGNORE you completely. Since the candidate already knows that your vote is in hand, he can then concentrate on moving the platform AWAY from your wishes, in order to court the votes of people with beliefs far from your own.

For example, many people who like Libertarian ideas always vote for Republicans. What does the party do to reward them? They make policies to win over moderate liberals. Similarly, many people who like Green Party ideas always vote for Democrats, and so the Democrats ignore them and make policies to win over moderate conservatives. Either way, the voters get the opposite of what they wanted, as the Democrats and Republicans move toward the political center.

To give recent example, in this year's presidential race, it is likely that most of Pat Buchanan's supporters will vote for Bob Dole in the coming election. Dole knows this, so he simply ignores Buchanan and his platform, and even tries to make himself look more liberal in order to court centrist Democrats.

Politicians don't need your approval, so long as they have your vote.

"But I dont want that other guy to win!"
Perhaps you feel that if you vote for your favorite candidate instead of a more popular alternative, then things will backfire on you because then your LEAST favorite candidate might win, and if he does then it will be your fault. This is a false fear.

If your least favorite candidate wins, then it is NOT your fault. You personally have only one vote. Like it or not, you are powerless to turn the results of a democratic election. This being the case, your one vote counts for something only in the sense that it represents your approval of some set of principles. Voting is a means of conveying information about what you believe. If you ignore your principles then this information is lost, and your vote really is wasted.

In preparation for subsequent elections, all politicians in the dominant parties continuously review polls and election results to see what voter blocks they might like to try to sway. If your block or party is big enough, these politicians will make some effort to win some of you over by implementing policies that you favor. They would be fools not to, since politicians and parties that enact unpopluar legislation lose the next election. Recall what happened to George Bush after he broke his "no new taxes" pledge.

The only way you can make your vote worth something is to use it to vote for the candidate whose principles are closest to what you really want.

The Clear Conclusion
In short, voting for someone other than your favorite candidate is not only unappealing, but also contrary to your own best interests. The only way to make your voice heard is to actually VOTE, and when you do, vote for your principles.

In the 1996 presidential primaries in South Carolina, Republican candidate Bob Dole spent several hundred thousand dollars running an ad that said:

"Bob Dole is going to be the nominee. Don't waste your vote."
We leave it to you to resolve the paradox.

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