Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Here's a vote for rationality

I planned on writing a post on why I don't vote. In it I planned on laying out the inconsistencies and illogical reasoning behind the many arguments offered by the pro-vote movement. Rather than hack my way through that, I will direct you to the timely and very well written article in the latest issue of REASON by Katherine Mangu-Ward. In it she hits all the critical points. 

Here is a particularly good passage:
Voting is widely thought to be one of the most important things a person can do. But the reasons people give for why they vote (and why everyone else should too) are flawed, unconvincing, and sometimes even dangerous. The case for voting relies on factual errors, misunderstandings about the duties of citizenship, and overinflated perceptions of self-worth. There are some good reasons for some people to vote some of the time. But there are a lot more bad reasons to vote, and the bad ones are more popular. 

The first thing I like to do when confronted (make no mistake it is always a confrontational attitude) with the question, "Why don't you vote?" is to reverse the questioning, "Why DO you?" This lets me know exactly what approach my adversary is taking: wistful hope shrouded in mathematical ignorance, a desire or duty-bound obligation to feel a part of the process, a genuine understanding of the futility coupled with a defendable enjoyment of voting, et al. 

My simple explanation for my position is as follows: It is a matter of principle and pragmatism. First the practical, my vote will not affect the outcome of an election. "But what if everyone thought and acted that way?" comes the familiar refrain. "Then I would vote and determine the outcome of elections. Now let's drop the childish hypotheticals." If you believe that your vote "counts", you are simply and severely mathematically mistaken. I would expect that you are more likely to mis-vote for the opposing side than vote as intended and meaningfully affect the voting outcome. You can enjoy the process and justify your actions on those grounds. In this sense rational voting is like rational gambling: you should vote/gamble because of the pleasure of the experience itself (contribution to democracy/thrill of potential jackpot), not because you believe you will likely change the outcome/win more than lose.

You can also take (the smallest) pride in knowing that you did affect the aggregate numbers for your side by a unit of one. And by proudly broadcasting the "I voted!" signal, you are perhaps unwittingly showing that you went to relatively great expense to support your side. But for what are you truly showing support?

This brings me to the principled reason. Generally there is very little difference between the candidates in an election--emphasis on very. To the extent differences appear, experience shows they disappear or are significantly reversed once rhetoric becomes policy. When voting on specific ballot measures where the distinctions between sides appears more clear cut, we are up against two forces: unintended consequences and the futility of fighting the tides. Voting down a tax increase may open a backdoor for politicians to increase debt. Voting against a measure to grant imminent domain powers to a private company doesn't change the fact that many in the population believe progress requires submitting this liberty. Most importantly, my non vote is a vote of disgust at the ever-reaching growth of the state and the worship of collective action as a problem solver. And I guess it is a little jab at those who don't understand probability.