Think Before You Vote

“Get Out and Vote” campaigns annoy me because they encourage folks to wield their political power recklessly.

To help offset the “Get Out and Vote” campaigns for the upcoming presidential election, I propose a “Think Before You Vote” campaign.

The key messages of the campaign would be:

1.  We encourage you to think more if the reason you plan to vote for your candidate is anything like these:

  • I’d like to go have a beer with him (or her).
  • He (or she) is so good-looking!
  • I just think he’ll (or she’ll) be really good for our country!
  • I just think he (or she) is what this country needs!
  • The dude on MTV told me to.
  • That’s who all my friends are voting for.
  • Because I’d never vote for the other guy.

We recommend not deciding who to vote for until you can complete these reasons:

  • While in these previous positions…  …he (she) accomplished…
  • He (she) supports this position because…
  • He (she) believes the Constitution means…
  • He (she) believes the role of the Federal government is…

2.  If any of the reasons that you want to vote for your candidate is because you want to force your fellow citizens to do something because you think it’s a good idea, then I think you owe it to your fellow citizens to explain why you think it’s a good idea and what makes you so sure (like, is there real world evidence to support your claim?).

3.  Can you clearly articulate both sides of the key issues that are important to you and why you believe your side is correct?  You should be able to answer yes.

4. Can you carry on productive political discussions with those who disagree with you?  You should be able to truthfully answer yes before you vote.

Do you and your fellow citizens a favor.  Think before you vote!

The 0.000179%…

…is the federal government.  Or, the 535 members of Congress + 1 President.

If my calculations are correct, those few currently “control” about the same amount of income as the 3 million, or so, in the much ballyhooed Top 1%.  Thanks to commenter, Xerographica, for pointing that out.

I wonder why those who fret about 3 million people earning that much money, by and large by producing value, don’t seem at all bothered by the 536 controlling just as much, through taxing and spending.

Because we vote for our elected representatives? Because they’re not spending the money directly on themselves?

These are reasons we should care even more about the 0.000179%, not less.

I believe many people will intuitively defend Congress having so much spending power by saying, but they are held accountable by our votes, we get to choose them.

How has that worked out for us?   Not well.  Public choice economics tells us why our intuition about elections is wrong.  Thomas Sowell explained it well in his book, Applied Economics.   I wrote about it in my post, How to Get People to Respond to Other People’s Desires.   This is Sowell’s key paragraph:

Politics and the markets are both ways of getting people to respond to other people’s desires.  Consumers deciding which goods to spend their money on have often been analogized to voters deciding which candidates to elect to public office.  However the two processes are profoundly different.  Not only do individuals invest very different amounts of time and thought in making economic vs. political decisions, those are inherently different in themselves.  Voters decide whether to vote for one candidate or another but they decide how much of what kinds of food, clothing, shelter, etc. to purchase.  In short, political decisions tend to be categorical, while economic decisions tend to be incremental.

I can also imagine some people defending the immense spending power that has been concentrated into the Federal government vs. the Top 1% by saying, well, they’re not spending the money on themselves.

Milton Friedman explained why this should make us more concerned in his Four Ways to Spend Money.  Government spending falls under Type IV spending — spending other people’s money on other people.  Friedman explained that with Type IV spending you have little incentive to spend it wisely since you don’t pay the consequences if you’re wrong or receive the benefits if you’re right.

Though, sometimes politicians do get benefits.  I get the pleasure of driving over a bridge each weekday named after a still living Senator from my state, for no other reason than he played politics with the rest of the 534 folks in Washington to get enough of them to agree to spend our money on that bridge.

Why I may ‘throw away my vote’

We’ve all heard why it’s a bad idea to vote for a third party candidate.  The smart guys on the radio tell me that it’s…

…like throwing away your vote because you vote for someone who doesn’t have a chance to win and take away a vote from the party that you agree with more, thereby increasing the chances of putting the other party in power.

But, I believe it was in Peter Robinson’s book It’s My Party: A Republican’s Messy Love Affair with the GOP, where I found a good counterpoint to this argument.

It’s been awhile since I read it, but if I recall correctly, Robinson pointed out that Perot’s fiscal responsibility message in the 1992 Presidential election earned him 19% of the vote.

That got the attention of the other two parties.  They adopted the fiscal responsibility platform to attract those votes.  Republicans adopted some of Perot’s platform as their own in 1994 to retake control of Congress and even Bill Clinton adopted a more conservative fiscal stance to get re-elected in 1996.

It worked.  Most of the 19% of the people who voted for Perot in 1992 threw back in with one of the major parties in the next Presidential election.

I think Robinson even suggested that’s why we have two dominant political parties in the U.S.  When a third-party or fringe party makes headway and attracts votes, the other two parties respond and try to adopt that stance in some form or fashion.

This makes sense.  This is normal feedbacks at work.  If a new soda pop took enough business away from Coke and Pepsi, Coke and Pepsi would respond with a similar product or buy that new soda company outright.

This is also a good explanation as to why political parties (and businesses) evolve over time.  Democrat Kennedy cut taxes?  Republican Nixon imposed wage and price controls?

So, despite what the guys on the radio say, all those people who threw their votes away on a third-party candidate really made a difference.  It just took a little longer to make that difference.

They sent a message to Democrats and Republicans that fiscal responsibility was important enough to get their votes.  The feedback loop worked because both parties responded.

Let’s say I agree with 20% of the policies of one major party candidate and 65% of the policies of the other.

If there’s a third party candidate that I’m in 85% agreement with, but he has zero chance of winning, the guys on the radio would tell me to vote for the 65% candidate in order to improve my chances of not winding up with the 20% candidate in power.

But, I think I’m done with that.

Voting for the the 85% candidate is my best chance of moving both parties closer to what I want. Over time, if we all do this, perhaps we start moving all the candidate positions closer to our goals.

Instead of choosing between 20% and 65% shoe-ins and the 85% odd-duck (the percentages representing how much I agree with them on), I might get to choose between 48% and 74% candidates, which are both better options for me than the 20% and 65% guys or gals.

Maybe the political calculation of the guys on the radio is why we seem to have politicians that are out of touch with the American people.

Instead of voting for what we really want and moving those agreement percentages closer to what we want, we vote for the lesser of two evils but end up moving those agreement percentages away from our ideal over successive elections.

Think about it.  If you’re going to vote for the lesser of two evils anyway, what incentive does your less evil candidate (or future less evil candidates) have to give serious consideration to what he disagrees with you about?

Maybe in one election you begrudgingly vote for the 70% candidate over the 45% candidate.  The next politician thinks you’ll vote for him if he only gives you 65% of what you want — as long as it’s higher than the other candidate.  He moved down to 65% because he can pick up a few votes in another group, without risking losing your vote.  After all, you wouldn’t want to take the chance of his opponent being in power, would you?

At the same time, the next candidate for the other major party moves from 45% agreement to 40% agreement.

Until someone can give me a convincing argument otherwise, I say vote for the candidate you agree with most whether that candidate has a chance or not. It might be painful, but enough people do it, it will send a clearer message of what’s important to you.