Saturday, November 3, 2012

On Voting

. Saturday, November 3, 2012

My attitude towards voting is simple: as an expressive act, a form of signaling, it is fine. For any other purpose which comes to mind it is not fine. It is at best ignorant and at worst an attempt at deceit for purposes of self-aggrandizement.

I put things so starkly because I would like to clear more room for folks to say "I voted because I like to vote" and have that be accepted as a valid reason with no need for further justification. I would also for there to be more space for folks to abstain without opprobrium. During this season these are priorities of mine for both normative and positive reasons. Normatively, because it drives me batty when people feel the need to claim that the simple act of voting -- cheap talk if there ever was such a thing* -- is Virtuous and Good and Efficacious, while abstaining is Derelict and Uncivil and Defeatist**. Such a sentiment is not purely expressive; it is moralism of questionable provenance (I'll get back to that), it is not uncommon, and this moralism is sometimes draped in the cloth of pseudo-science.

Which leads to the positive concern: I am a political scientist, and every theoretical model and empirical finding in political science of which I am aware suggests that voting for instrumental reasons has no justification under any reasonable assumptions about the state of the world. In fact, the logic of democracy means that if that were not the case then the democracy would be malfunctioning, likely in ways which would call the act of voting even further into question.

As such I am in agreement with Phil Arena. The whole post is worth reading, but a key point occurs when he goes after Andrew Gelman, a prominent political scientist who has argued that voting may indeed be rational in some, maybe even most, circumstances. Here's Gelman (with sics):
In swing states (or for close non-presidential elections), though, it’s a different story Aaron, Nate, and I have estimated the probability of your vote being decisive in a swing state as being in the range 1 in a million to 1 in 10 million. Low, but not zero, and Aaron, Noah, and I argue that it can be make sense to vote because of the social benefits that a voter might feel arise from his or her preferred candidate winning.
Here's Arena:
Your vote is not going to decide which candidate wins. It's not. As Levitt says, when it gets close, they go to the courts. You know what else is a fabulous indicator that it's a flat-out lie that every vote counts? The fact that media outlets will announce which candidate won each state before election officials are done counting the votes. Can you ask for more explicit evidence than that? They literally do not count all the votes before determining the winner, and yet people say that every vote counts. Are you kidding me? Or do you just not know that words have meanings? Even in those cases where it's really close, the final vote count is going to be contested, at least at the presidential level. At that point, the outcome depends upon whose definition of a valid vote prevails, not whether you, dear reader, cast a vote for your preferred candidate.
Which is correct. It is not, in my opinion, the best part of Phil's post -- that would be the part where he attacks the self-righteousness of voters who think that if they were the deciding vote the Whole Wide World would be much off -- but it is a valid rebuttal. To my knowledge no national election has ever come down to a single vote, and if it ever did it would be litigated for centuries.

Even still Arena is giving Gelman's argument more credit than it deserves. In fact, Gelman doesn't have an argument. He simply pretends as if there was a utility function out there such that it would make sense for people to vote at 1/10,000,000 odds (those are only the swing state voters, not the median or modal or otherwise typical voter). So far as I know no such utility function has ever been modeled or tested against peoples' actual subjective utilities, and Arena points out numerous analogous situations in which folks generally behave differently -- getting in a car crash, getting shot while on campus, etc. -- despite similar or better (worse?) odds. Is it possible that someone somewhere fits the bill? Sure, there are extreme outliers. But that's now what Gelman is driving at, even including the caveats. Over 100,000,000 million people will vote in this election. How many of them will have anything even close to 1/10,000,000 chance of being the decisive vote? 0.00001% of them, at most? That leaves the other 99.99999% in need of explanation, and quite frankly I find that a bit more interesting and important.

It gets still worse for Gelman. His entire argument is a political science version of Pascal's Wager. Pascal's Wager is exceptionally easy to dispute as a simple matter of logic and probability (see here for a few easy ways), so if we wanted to we could simply dismiss Gelman on grounds of absurdity and move on.

But it's even worse than that, because Pascal's Wager assumes that if you win the bet the reward is infinite. That was Pascal's entire justification for taking the gamble. It is also one of its logical flaws. Gelman doesn't go quite so far, mercifully, but as Arena usefully points out Gelman's view of voting "as equivalent to the purchase of a lottery ticket which, if it wins, corresponds to a huge donation to a charity" has a view of politics which is the antithesis of all actually existing political science theory (of which I'm aware). Political science models elections as something very different from charitable giving. As Arena puts it:
We have very good reason to believe that, no matter who wins, close to half of the population will suffer an enormous loss of subjective utility on election night. The very fact that so many people think that the outcome of the election matters is itself evidence that if your vote could determine the outcome of the election, it would not be at all like buying a lottery ticket to help the poor. No one, not no one, is going to feel devastated if a stranger randomly gives them money for no reason. Voting is much more akin to buying a lottery ticket in the hopes hiring a bunch of thieves to rob half of the country so that you can give the stuff they steal to the other half of the country.
Perhaps the reader will find the last line distasteful, but this is the rhetoric the right commonly uses to describe Obama, and it is the rhetoric the left commonly uses to describe Romney. It's the only way that elections could possibly matter. Gelman might be correct to repudiate his entire discipline, but it'll take more to convince me than he's given.

In any case, the point is that Gelman supposes -- like Pascal -- that there are no costs for being wrong. If you lose the Wager election you lose nothing, but if you win you have gained Eternity. Once again, this is absurd. If the gains of winning are so large, then the simple act of voting, if not matched by other efforts, is not rational at all. Either one canvasses with every spare moment, donates the max amount of money to campaigns, dedicates one's life to advocacy, and otherwise does everything in ones' power to achieve the desired result, or else one does nothing. If it's not worth incurring real costs then the lottery ticket for charity must not be worth so much after all. And if it isn't, then why does the act of voting, in and of itself, make sense? [Ed. I should have said that there may be some comparative static in which the combination of minimal effort + large reward is rational, but that Gelman hasn't found it. In any case the likelihood of finding such an equilibrium is, in my mind, made exceptionally unlikely by what follows.]

So Gelman contradicts political science theory. The median voter theorem might not be perfect in practice, but refinements to it have generally been marginal, not qualitative. They are attempts to uncover why the median voter theorem is somewhat less than perfect. (Search Google Scholar.) Indeed, the more perfect a democracy is, the more closely the median voter theorem will approximate reality. Achieving the will of the median voter is, after all, the entire point of democracy. This suggests that the better the democracy functions, the less valuable it will be to win an election, since the loser will be pretty close to the median voter anyway (in fact, arbitrarily as close as the winner). Which means that the expected value of voting for instrumental purposes -- which already approximates zero -- shrinks to even more closely approximate zero. At the limit it won't matter at all***.

All of this assumes that the president is omnipotent upon taking office. In reality, the expected value of one's vote being the decisive one collapses even more (if it can collapse further) by virtue of having to deal with constraints from two legislatures, the judiciary, the Constitution and other previous law, the electoral college system (or other voting rules, e.g. proportional representation schemes), and the shadow of future elections. So once we're talking about the odds of buying a lottery ticket not to win an election but to actually influence policy in a tangible way that benefits the majority, we must be in 1 in several billions odds at least. Still rational? At some point it must not be for essentially everyone. If not here, then where?

Moreover, Gelman's approach suggests that voters should not vote pragmatically, and should instead vote their conscience. After all, the chance that your vote is the deciding one which elects Romney is 1 in 10 million and with Gary Johnson it's maybe 1 in 100 million, but suppose a Johnson presidency is much more valuable to you than a Romney presidency: what's a few more decimal places among friends? Yet very few people do such a thing. They vote for a candidate that "has a chance of winning", a "viable candidate". As a rule they don't want to "waste their vote". This suggests to me that people are not voting their conscience, are not taking Pascal's Gelman's Wager. Something else must be going on.

I don't want to push the point too terribly far since revealed preference arguments are often troubled, but my best read of the situation is that people vote for candidates that they do not prefer ("lesser of two evils"), in a situation in which the probability that their vote is decisive is approximately zero, when even if it was decisive the gains would be slight and perhaps imperceptible on balance****, all for one reason: they like to be on the winning team. They like to "contribute" to the victory, because even if the "contribution" has no effect on the outcome they can feel as if it did. It's sports fandom, electoral politics -- not all politics -- is a game, and voters are the guy sitting at home watching it on television while wearing a rally cap*****.

I have no problem with that until the point that the fan voter wearing the jersey I Like Ike button insinuates that their partisanship is good for the country, or for me, or for charity, or for anything at all other than their subjective desire to feel like a winner. Because it's not. Any other assertion is either a delusion or a lie, as it is unsupported by logic, theory, or evidence. Scientists are supposed to do better, as Arena notes:
Personally, I think that anyone who really thinks that empowering their preferred party would make (most) everyone better off and (nearly) no one worse off should be disqualified from teaching political science, but maybe that's just me. At any rate, you're either profoundly insensitive to the well-being of approximately half of the population or so confident that you know what's best for them that you'd be willing to impose an outcome on them that they expressly oppose, which still means that you're insensitive to their short-term happiness. That may not make you stupid, but it doesn't say anything particularly flattering about you either.
If people wish to vote as a consumption good, they have as much of my support as they'd have if they chose to stay home and play Call of Duty on November 6th instead. The marginal effect on societal welfare is the same in either case. We would not accept as valid any argument from the gamer that (s)he has improved the lot of fellow (wo)men by pushing buttons; why accept as valid an argument from the voter that (s)he has improved the lot of fellow (wo)men by pushing levers in a voting booth?

And we would all be better off if we understood that politics is mostly not about elections.

*Don't think so? What do you think would happen to the number of voters if we charged a nominal fee -- say, $3 -- for the privilege of voting?

**The very worst are those who say "I don't care who you vote for, just vote." Why? If they don't care who I vote for then they must not care about the outcome of the election. And if they don't care about the outcome of the election then why are they voting? The statement practically contradicts itself, unless they just want to see people waste their time. In which case they are cleverer than I.

***And if it does matter -- if democracy is sufficiently imperfect that it could -- and if it could be corrected -- if greater participation pulled policy closer to the median voter -- on the utilitarian grounds that Gelman has proposed only voters that would pull the results back towards the median voter should vote.

****Or even worse. Suppose you voted for Obama in 2008 because you wanted a universal health care system, and you (against all odds) were the deciding vote. You get your health care plan, but probably not in any form which was ex ante recognizable or maybe even desirable. Meanwhile you lie awake at night thinking about the thousands dead from drone strikes, the continuation of the War on Drugs, the continuing expansion of executive prerogative, and a host of other downsides. Yes but it's better than McCain you think but is that really true? Even if it is how much consolation is it? I don't think I'd even want to be the deciding vote.

*****In other words, they are me when the Cardinals are in the playoffs. Not a pretty picture.


Latinamericanist said...

That's a very sloppy reading of Gelman who, among other things
1. Never claims (and in fact very much doesn't believe) that rational expectations to cast the deciding vote are the only or even the main factor in convincing people to vote. If you read Gelman again, you'll note that he argues against the notion that it's always irrational to vote because of the chance to be the decisive vote, not for the notion that it's always rational to vote because of that.

2. You just ignore his arguments against Levitt's "in close elections the courts decide" point - an argument that I find wholly convincing.

Apart from the sloppy reading of Gelman, I don't think your moral argument holds. If I view voting as an expressive act (and I agree that that's one of it's major functions) why shouldn't I berate someone for not voting? Why is it wrong to see non-voting as an expressive act, too, one with which I strongly disagree?
And if I view voting as an expressive act in favor of the democratic process, what's wrong with prioritizing the act of voting at all over the specific choice?
Personally, I mostly don't feel like pestering people to vote and I'd rather Romney voters stay home, but I think a position that sees voting as a strong moral obligation and prefers any vote over a non-vote is perfectly consistent with exactly the "voting as expressive act" framework that you yourself start out with.

Kindred Winecoff said...

I don't think I've been unfair. Gelman is suggesting that, under relatively reasonable conditions, it is rational to vote for instrumental reasons. I disagree.

I ignore his counter-argument to Levitt because Arena already dealt with it, and I find Arena very convincing. That is, once it goes to the courts the debate becomes "what is a vote?" (e.g. hanging chads, etc.), which makes it practically impossible for any single vote to be the deciding one.

But as I said quite clearly, I'm not berating anyone for voting expressively. I wish to create more reasons for people to vote expressively without having to rationalize it with half-baked instrumental justification.

Phil Arena said...

Very good post, Kindred.

Gelman's counter to the courts claim, that your vote might be decisive with respect to whether the election goes to the courts, is clever, but doesn't really help. First of all, we know that they often decide whether to go to the courts before they finish counting, and second of all, there is no single, uncontested vote count. Therefore, your ability to determine whether your candidate loses outright or has his day in court is pretty close to unmeasurable, and any reasonable guess about the size of it would have to estimate that it is absurdly small.

Fwiw, my own guess as to why people vote "strategically" is not so much that they want to be on the winning team, but that they want to avoid social sanction. That is, I think the same thing explains both vote choice and the decision to turn out in the first place. If it was about winning, Democrats would switch to supporting Republicans in elections they don't expect to be close, even if they would have supported the Democrat were it closer. I don't think anyone votes that way. I think the collective fiction that individual votes matter is enforced by social sanction, and that social sanction will be applied to people who vote for 3rd parties in close elections. But I could be wrong.

LFC said...

2 things:

1) I wonder whether anything Richard Tuck says in 'Free Riding' about voting might be relevant to this discussion. Neither side of the debate seems to have cited the book.

2) I didn't read the post all that carefully but toward the end you throw in a line about partisanship. Why muddy the waters when your post is about voting not partisanship? The notion that someone wearing an 'I like Ike' or 'I like whoever' button is motivated only by the subjective desire to be a winner is strange. Let's take a concrete ex.: In '08 I thought Obama wd be better, on balance, for the country as a whole (or let's say for a sizable majority of its inhabitants) than McCain. (not to mention for some people outside the US as well) Thus if I had worn an Obama button I wd have been maintaining not just 'I want Obama to win b.c i want to feel like a winner' but 'I think an Obama victory wd be the better outcome for the country'. But this is a separate
pt from the rationality of voting, which is why i don't understand why you bring it up.

It also conforms btw to yr comment at Duck of Minerva that Obama v Romney you view as an "aesthetic choice". Since I don't think you're an adherent of the so-called aesthetic turn in political theory, if there even is such a thing, i take this statement to mean that you don't think the choice betw Romney and Obama really matters v much. You are of course free to think that, but i hope you're not generalizing that stance to all pres. elections and saying you think it never matters who is elected pres. B/c that I think wd be a rather difficult stance to defend.

Kindred Winecoff said...

LFC, thanks for the comment. Insightful as always.

1. I haven't read Tuck's book, but I accept that I'm free-riding. And I don't feel a bit bad about it, because it doesn't harm anyone. For example, suppose a sufficiently-large number of people with heterogenous preferences over policy vote purely for expressive reasons. I have no problem with expressive voting, remember, and in this example the will of the median voter will be approximated anyway. So why not let the people vote who simply enjoy voting, and let the rest of us stay home and enjoy the positive externality? (Obv this changes if those who vote for expressive reasons are not a random sample, but I doubt the deviation would ever be very far from the median.)

2. I felt like I had to advance some argument which explains why folks vote in such large numbers, given that instrumental voting makes little sense. I don't think that everyone votes purely because they enjoy the act itself, and while I agree with Phil that there are social pressures to vote I don't think that motivates everyone either who votes either.

What I've observed during this election campaign, and others, is unblinking (and mostly unthinking) political attitude-formation where substance has been drowned out at every turn by sloganeering. "Binders full of women" and that sort of thing. It's not deliberative democracy. Folks are not weighing the evidence and coming to reasoned conclusions. It's hysteria on all sides and including among very smart people.

This reminds me of sports fandom. Even the complaining about the referees (er, debate moderators)! People are really invested in the outcome but I'm not *really* sure why. For most people in my circles the differences in policy are essentially nil. So I think it's more about wanting one's team to win than anything else.

As for your last point: all dominant models of politics in democracies suggest that policymaking will converge towards the center. I am not "free to think" that the choice between outcomes under different administrations does not constitute a very large difference; if I take my own discipline even somewhat seriously I am *compelled* to think that is true in the general case, and it is up to someone else to explain to me when/why some individual case would deviate from it.

I could put this differently. Suppose I'd told you that the following would happen during a presidential administration:

billions of dollars in handouts to major corporations, a series of tax cuts across the board, escalation of hostilities in Afghanistan, extrajudicial killings in whatever country the feels like entering (with zero oversight), the passage of a health care bill modeled on Romney's MA bill (itself modeled on a plan created by the Heritage Foundation) which is essentially a giveaway of billions to insurance companies, no immigration reform, no tax reform, an increase in the War on Drugs, the continuing operation of Gitmo, the arrest and treatment of Bradley Manning, a dramatic decrease in public sector employment, military intervention in Libya, the enaction of several free trade deals, and the tolerance of "too big to fail" financial institutions.

Given the 2008 campaign, would you guess that was the record of a McCain or Obama administration?

I could play the same game with Clinton. Or Bush, for that matter (either of them). The truth is, American politics is mostly structural (by design), the differences between parties is necessarily marginal (not fundamental), and this is *precisely what political science tells us to expect*.

So it's mostly an aesthetic choice.

LFC said...

Thanks. I've already spent too much time at the computer today so I'm going to do this faster than I'd like. I'm going to put aside the whole 'free riding' point -- suffice to say my point was not to accuse you of free riding, but that was my fault for not explaining. (Will have to await another occasion.)

1) As 'Latinamericanist' suggested above, I think some people vote b.c they feel it is an obligation of citizenship in a (formally) democratic polity , or something like that. This I think is prob. the motivation for quite a few, though I don't know how many.

2) You know the relevant pol sci literature here better than I (my degree, as I've had occasion to mention before, does not say 'political science' but 'IR'). In the US system, I'd agree that things do tend to converge to the center policy-wise, for various reasons. But the differences are not as small and trivial as you suggest, in my judgment. For one thing, one person's "marginal" difference is another person's "significant" one; it also depends on the issues one is interested in. If you're a voter for whom 'social issues' like abortion and the end of DADT in the military are important, you wd certainly find a significant diff. betw Obama and what wd have happened under McCain.

People in the 20th c. fought and died in great numbers for political beliefs. That this doesn't happen at least in most of the 'developed' world any more doesn't mean that people don't have beliefs that they care about.
Such people will make voting decisions based on which choice they think will best advance their beliefs, on balance, and often while being aware that the system is structurally geared to yield outcomes v. short of their ideals.

This is not a sports-fandom style decision. Maybe people in your circles of friends, colleagues, relatives and acquaintances view things that way and can't really explain why they feel strongly about one candidate or the other, but if you followed, for ex, the heated debates in the blogosphere (CT/LGM etc) among self-identified progressives and liberals about whether to vote for Obama or a 3d party candidate you'd have found it hard to conclude, I think, that this was an aesthetic argument. Now maybe you wd come back and say these people are all deluded b.c they haven't read the pol sci literature. I'm not ready to write off the role of beliefs that quickly. Ideas and ideology still matter, both in influencing voting decisions and in influencing the differences in policy outcomes btw admins, even in the US system where things often converge to the middle. So I'm not ready to concede on this. I bet if I had time to look I could find some political scientists who continue to think there are real if constrained differences btw Democrats and Repubs. and that it does make a diff. who wins. Theda Skocpol, Paul Pierson, Jacob Hacker, probably Martin Gilens. To name a few.

LFC said...

and there are times when policy diverges from some kind of even vaguely sane moorings and one ends up, e.g., with the invasion of Iraq, which i think wd have been less likely to have occurred under Gore (though it still might have). so in that sense the 2000 outcome was quite consequential.

Kindred Winecoff said...

I agree that there are many people -- including political scientists -- who believe that there are real differences between Dems and Repubs. I'm just not sure why. It contradicts almost the entire body of theory. The state of the art in this literature, as I understand it, is that things get a bit "fuzzy" around the median voter, so a simple MVT isn't perfectly true. But all that's telling us is that there are error bars since information is not perfect. Moreover that's about *elections*. Actual policy outcomes are quite different, and tend to be moderated even further. The differences between the parties tend to be negotiated away by the legislatures. Again... this is the whole point of the system.

Regarding DADT: it was going to be repealed. Nearly 70% of Americans supported repeal. Nearly 70% of service-members supported repeal. The effing DoD and Joint Chiefs supported repeal. It passed the Senate 65-31 and cleared the House by 40 votes. The law repealing DADT survived multiple legal challenges. Given all of that, I suspect a President McCain would not have vetoed the bill, since he supported repeal (if the military did) until reversing following his 2008 election loss. Romney and Ryan are both on record as stating that the repeal should stand.

Why? Because since 1993 the American public had swung from supporting DADT to opposing it. Given that, repeal was inevitable. I guess in some alternate reality that could have happened a few years earlier or later, but we're starting to parse things very finely at this point.

You could make similar claims w/r/t abortion or other issues. A majority of the court during Roe v Wade were Republican appointees. The deciding vote upholding ObamaRomneyCare was Roberts. Once the median voter shifts, policy shifts. Until then it doesn't.

We've disagreed before about the likelihood of Gore invading Iraq in 2003. I'll only note that Gore said in 2002 "Iraq's search for weapons of mass destruction has proven impossible to deter and we should assume that it will continue for as long as Saddam is in power." In the same speech he suggested the US had legal justification under the 1991 UN resolutions. He expresses reservations about it in that speech, but there is little reason to think that there would be no differences between Gore-the-President and Gore-the-Citizen. (And anyway, all of that was unforeseeable in 2000, when Bush campaigned on a platform of a more humble foreign policy while Gore defended the Clinton administration's interventions.)

I think the CT/LGM controversy is VERY MUCH analogous to sports. Both sites are knee-jerk left. Both sides want to see the left win, and are more than happy to demonize the "other side", accuse the "other side" of lies, deceit, and all manner of malfeasance while defending to the death similar actions taken by their "own side". This is exactly the rhetoric and thought process used by sports fans.

The "debate" b/t the two sites was about whether lesser-evil voting was justified, and in the comments sections at both places the overwhelming majority of respondents said "Yes". Some said it was a moral imperative, in fact. Why? So as not to let Romney win. If policy differences are slight (and most agree that they are, on most issues at least, to the extent that the debates uncovered almost no policy differences at all), then the "moral imperative" can't be about policy.

I'm not saying ideology doesn't matter. I think it does. But "my team is better than your team" is an ideology. Considering that the overwhelming majority of voters support parties that do not well represent them, it seems to be a very salient ideology. Being in the winning coalition feels good. So you pick the "team" that signals that they are "like you" but still has a chance of winning .

LFC said...

There are some policy diffs. btw Romney and Obama which are real and which came out in the debates. Romney wants to lower tax rates across the bd even for the v. wealthy, unlike Obama. Romney wants to repeal many aspects of Obamacare, notwithstanding its similarity to what Romney did in Massachusetts. Romney wants to spend more (and more indiscriminately, IMO) on the defense budget than Obama. Etc. These are real differences. They will be subject to the push and pull of the legislative process, of course, but they are different starting points.

Yet one might think they are not *so* different as to make defeat of Romney a "moral imperative." And no doubt there are many people who will vote for Obama while *not* regarding defeat of R. as "a moral imperative." The phrase "moral imperative" may not be that helpful, but the fact is that for some voters, incl. me, their political choices do take on a moral coloration. For evangelicals/fundamentaliststhat works of course in one way.
But what about for those 'on the left'?

I wd place myself on the left. I favor a much less unequal distribution of income and wealth. I believe that govt often has a crucial role to play in ensuring that private interests do not run roughshod over the public interest in safety and environmental protection. I think organized labor is generally (not always, but most of the time) a positive force for protection of workers' rights and standards of living. I oppose efforts to further weaken unions (again generally speaking). Etc. These policy preferences derive from a set of values, egalitarianism prime among them. I realize I am what political scientists probably call an ideological voter and thus not all that typical, but I feel it nec. to say this in order to explain why I reject, at least for myself and some other people I know, your sports analogy.

If i am watching Andy Murray play Novak Djokovic at the US Open, I may want one or the other to win, but at bottom I don't care that much b.c nothing hangs on the outcome except which of two exceptionally talented athletes gets more money and a higher ranking. When I go into a voting booth and vote for Obama, for ex., I do so b.c I believe that, on balance and despite various qualifications, he comes closer than R. to sharing the values from which I see my policy preferences deriving. I know the fit is far from perfect (he is more 'centrist' or moderate, closer to the supposed median voter, than I am) but I believe that, though not the party it once was and though deeply in some ways beholden to wealthy interests, the Dems are still closer to my values than the Reps. Now I may be wrong about this as an empirical matter in 2012, just taking a snapshot of the present and ignoring history, but that's what I tend to believe. So I don't view this as sports b.c for me sports does not involve values and politics does. And clearly a lot of the CT people and LGM people come I think from the same general perspective. Which is why I deliberately chose them as a group for whom the sports analogy doesn't hold. Typical of the electorate as a whole? Probably not. But there is at least a significant minority of voters who do approach things in this way.

The US 2-party system flattens out things by forcing most everyone into 2 big tents, unlike in a multi-party system. So the parties will not represent any given voter as well as a small party in a multi-party system will represent its voters. This may, I admit, give the sports analogy some plausibility for some voters. But certainly not for all.

DalekBaldwin said...

"Fwiw, my own guess as to why people vote "strategically" is not so much that they want to be on the winning team, but that they want to avoid social sanction. That is, I think the same thing explains both vote choice and the decision to turn out in the first place. If it was about winning, Democrats would switch to supporting Republicans in elections they don't expect to be close, even if they would have supported the Democrat were it closer. I don't think anyone votes that way. I think the collective fiction that individual votes matter is enforced by social sanction, and that social sanction will be applied to people who vote for 3rd parties in close elections. But I could be wrong."

Getting satisfaction out of supporting the winning team requires, first, as a rational measure, picking a team with a non-infinitesimal chance of winning, and second, in recognition of your own irrationality, becoming emotionally invested in following the ups and downs of your team on the path to victory. There's no fun in deciding to become a Yankees fan during the ninth inning of game 7 of the World Series. Besides, if you know both in your heart and in your mind that you could just as easily have rooted for the other guy... well... that's even sadder than thinking you had a chance of casting the deciding vote.

Unknown said...
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Kindred Winecoff said...

So I'm way late on this (sorry) but I don't want to let it go entirely.


I continue to think the differences are slight. Obama actually does want to raise taxes across the board, including on the very wealthy. All he wants to do is raise the top *marginal* rate a couple of percentage points, but this would only apply to income above $250,000/year. All income from $1-$249,999 would be taxed at the lower rates. Similarly, Romney wants to uphold pretty much everything in Obamacare except for the mandate/tax, which will likely not function properly and have to be replaced in the relatively near future anyway. Romney wants to keep military spending on the same growth trajectory as it has been, while Obama wants to shrink the *rate* of growth, just slightly.

So I don't think these are "real differences", particularly considering that these are supposedly the candidates ideal points! And this is what we should expect: clustering of policies around the middle.

Maybe my sports analogy was tortured. I agree completely with what you wrote here:

"When I go into a voting booth and vote for Obama, for ex., I do so b.c I believe that, on balance and despite various qualifications, he comes closer than R. to sharing the values from which I see my policy preferences deriving. I know the fit is far from perfect (he is more 'centrist' or moderate, closer to the supposed median voter, than I am) but I believe that, though not the party it once was and though deeply in some ways beholden to wealthy interests, the Dems are still closer to my values than the Reps."

Right. The Dems are marginally closer to you than the GOP, but both are playing for the middle of the distribution. That's my whole point. As a result, you will always vote for Dems, but policy will always be moderate. Non-marginal change will only occur when the "moderate" position shifts, i.e. when the composition of the electorate shifts (either ideologically or demographically or in some other way). But that only reiterates my central point, which is that politics is mostly structural, so getting too worked up about one candidate or the other just doesn't make a bunch of sense.

On Voting




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