Friday, September 05, 2008

Voting For a Major-Party Candidate

Some have suggested here that the correct strategy this November is to vote for the “major-party” candidate you find least offensive. If you people keep making suggestions like this, I’m going to have to revoke your commenting privileges, or at least institute the comment-review option allowed by Blogger and now being used for home run calls in Major League Baseball. (Sixty-forty.)

I first hated this suggestion in 2001 when we voted in the California recall election. There were three main candidates: Cruz “Bust A Move” Bustamante, Arnold “Terminator” Schwarzenegger, and Tom “Too Serious For Nicknames” McClintock. As the election neared, nearly everyone I talked to had this to say: “I like McClintock best, but he can’t win, so I’m voting for Schwarzenegger.”

What makes a candidate win? Getting more votes. (Yes, this is true even of the presidential election, which is really 51 simultaneous elections. I’ll be voting in the Kansas presidential election, and the winner will be the candidate who gets the most popular votes.) When a candidate is ahead in the polls, all that means is that a sample of other voters favor him. Casting your vote based on what the sample wants transfers your vote to them.

Let’s say there are ten people voting for something and you’re one of them. Before going to vote you check the latest polls. It turns out Zogby talked to the other nine voters (they all have land-lines and you don’t), and the polls show Candidate A is leading, five to four. You say, “Well, I preferred Candidate B, but he’s behind in the polls,” so you go vote for Candidate A.

“Bu-bu-but that’s different! I’m not the deciding vote in this election!” Why not? How do you know until the votes are counted? Why vote at all if you only take your choice seriously under threat of being the “deciding vote”? No presidential election in history has been decided by one vote, so we should all phone it in and allow the other voters to pick for us.

If we all phone it in, there are no other voters. Keeping a vote from Candidate A is not voting for Candidate B; it’s nothing more than not voting for Candidate A. I don’t know if I can support Obama, but I know I cannot support McCain, and that’s not a contradiction.

The two major parties have a lot invested in convincing you they are the only choices (like car companies want you to think they’re the only viable transportation option, or Middle Eastern countries want you to think they’re the only viable energy source). The Republican Party was a third party that began when both the Democrats and the Whigs refused to properly address the slavery issue. In a few years, however, when the Republicans finish their transition from being pro-life to being “open-minded,” they will tell you that you have to hold your nose and vote for them.

If McCain wanted my trust to “protect and defend the Constitution,” he should have protected and defended it when he had the chance in the past. His campaign finance reform law is the largest infringement on the First Amendment since the Alien and Sedition Acts (also the work of an old man named John).

Tune in tomorrow when I discuss why fear of Supreme Court appointments is not a sufficient reason to vote for or against a presidential candidate. (Although I probably won’t, because tomorrow is Saturday and I’ll be busy.)


Cristin said...

That's nice, but I'm not saying to vote for the one who will win. I am saying to vote for the one who YOU find the least offensive. I know it goes against every principle you have, but I remember Perot. He was a 3rd party candidate who split the vote. I guess you could argue that he was the only 3rd party candidate who ever really had a chance to win, but he did split Bush's vote. Our electoral college system does not work well with more than 2 major candidates. I feel like I'm going off on a tangent.

Anyway, you can be idealistic, and I admire it, but in all honesty, you know that either McCain or Obama is going to win. That's just the way it is. I would bet money that one of those guys is going to win.

JT said...

I believe that if you are going to vote (which is irrational), you should not vote strategically, but express a true preference. Find the one that you like, or can at least tolerate, and don't care if they win or not. This action would simply extend your argument to its logical conclusion. In the end, if you choose one of the two main parties because they are the main parties, you are referencing someone else's opinion in order to inform your behavior. Exactly what you just argued against.

I voted for Bob Dole because I thought he was funny. That was enough for me. Then I voted for Nader because I believed in his platform. I knew that Nader couldn't win, and I would have preferred Gore to win, but ultimately I wanted to make a statement about our choices. Isn't that what voting is about, making a statement? Well not really, but that is what people think it does... maybe I should blog about that today.

The Man Your Husband Is Worried About said...

JT: I think you should blog about why voting is irrational.
Also, I don't get what you mean when you say "if you choose one of the two main parties because they are main parties..." because you conclude like I don't agree with that, but I thought my point was that I do. As I try to decide whether to vote for Bob Barr (given Libertarianism's anti-prohibition stance), I'm not taking into account, "Oh, but a Libertarian can't win."
And you voted for Nader? I've overlooked a lot in our friendship (including your head, Shorty), but that one's going to take me a while. Q: What's the most difficult part of voting for Nader? A: The munchies.

JT said...

TMYHIWA: Right. My comment was in line with your post and a semi-response to cristin. Maybe it was just early. Anyway, I have blogged about voting and am currently attempting to direct blog traffic my way in saying so. ;)

I was young when I voted for Nader. I was younger for Bob Dole. I have gone all over the political spectrum from right to left authoritarian to right libertarian and now more centrist left libertarian. In the end I have too many policy preferences that do not align with any one group (Statistically, I lost all of my degrees of freedom). So now I choose funny named people when I have to vote. Have you ever heard of Cicciolina? She has a great story and a good name.

Cristin said...

A vote should represent a true preference, but unfortunately, that doesn't work anymore. There are too many idiots who are going to vote blindly for one of the 2 major candidates and I guess I am just taking that into account when voting. I know that may sound pessimistic, but it's reality.

I'm all for getting rid of the electoral college.