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09 November 2007 @ 01:54 pm
Democracy  
Scott Adams made an interesting post1 in The Dilbert Blog, in which he linked to this NY Times article.

For those of you too lazy to click on either link, to quickly summarise, they make the argument that it's a waste of time for an individual to vote, because elections are almost never decided by a single vote, so your vote doesn't really count anyway. The article claims that this is a fact only truly grasped by economists (Adams himself is trained as an economist).

I thought I'd post my comment here, since it would otherwise be lost in the quagmire of comments over there2 and because this is my blog and anyone who reads it ostensibly cares what I think:

"Just because your vote may not be the deciding vote, doesn't mean it doesn't count. In fact, if anything, the wider the margin in an election, the bigger the message the votes on the winning side of the ballot are sending. Landslide victories tend to shape policy going into future elections; away from the losing side's policies and towards those of the winning side.

So, the converse is also true: voting for the losing candidate is an endorsement of their policies. And if your vote helps make the election a close one, the winning candidate is more likely to adopt policies closer to their rival's, hoping to win a larger share of the vote, lest they face another nail-biter at the next election.

The NY Times article also suggests to me another reason why you shouldn't assume your particular vote doesn't matter. According to the article, ALL economists hold the view that their individual vote doesn't count, and therefore ALL economists refuse to vote unless forced. That means that economists are, albeit voluntarily, disenfranchised.

So, whilst few elections are won by a single vote, there's probably plenty that are won by, say, one hundred votes. In such an election there might be one hundred and one economists eligible to vote, and since economists are so universally of one mind we'll assume they would all have voted for the same candidate. Of course, in this hypothetical scenario that candidate happens to have lost the election, because ALL economists are smart enough to realise their vote doesn't really count.

And that kind of grouping of people is really the key. Whilst individuals may think they are unique when they decide not to vote, chances are that they fall into a certain demographic that is, as a group, less likely to vote. For example, if you happen to be a single parent who has to work long hours and look after young children, you're in a category that's pretty likely to not find the time on polling day. So, rather than one vote, which didn't really count anyway, not being cast, you have a whole demographic that's disenfranchised. And that means that demographic doesn't get the attention it needs and deserves from the politicians."




1. There's rarely any other kind, actually. It's one of the best blogs out there. But, be warned, it may make your head explode with cognitive dissonance. Also, please familiarise yourself with the meaning of the term "Devil's Advocate" before you start accusing Adams of being [evil/stupid/wrong].

2. Adams moderates every comment personally. I have no idea how he has time to do that and still make those daily doodles that he's famous for.

ETA: The LJ feed for The Dilbert Blog is: dilbert_blog, in case anyone care's to add it to their flist. For those using an external RSS reader, there's a link on the left hand side of the blog.
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escarpeescarpe on November 9th, 2007 03:36 am (UTC)
It’s an argument that is based on a logical fallacy but one of those arguments that I hear people say from time to time that really drives me nuts, Sure ok one vote isn’t going to sway an election, just like you giving me one dollar isn’t going to send you bankrupt, not only that but you really can’t buy much for a dollar these days, so you won’t mind me having that one, and that one and that one too. In fact come to think of it ten dollars doesn’t buy you much these days, what four cups of coffee? You don’t even drink coffee. So you won’t mind me taking that either.
There is perhaps an argument to be made that one man (or woman, power to the sistas!) one vote is to simplistic a system to really bring relevance to an election that has to take into account such a diverse group of issues that need we the people need to be made aware of and then decide our preference on, also there is the fact that most people don’t know the governments policy on “Topic X” because isn’t really covered in the media or directly relevant to them and of course having a choice of only two parties that are basically the same makes of mockery of it all anyway.
It’s a well know fact that a lot of people vote based on party loyalty. Is this just a way of not having to have an opinion? What should they vote based on? Leaders? Policies? Of course you want to vote the party into the job that you think will do their best to manage the country…but really how do you decide that?
I consider myself well informed, relatively intelligent and more importantly interested in politics and yet I don’t think that I’m capable of making that judgement there are just to many variables to consider and I simply don’t have enough information.
I think my point, if I have one, is that most people deep down consider their one cherished vote to be of too little value to spend the hours and hours of time you will need to make an informed decision, if that is possible at all, because whilst one vote DOES count it is but a whisper “no” in a concert hall of “YES”. In the end the expenditure does not equal the value of the gain.
Don’t get me started on people who say “I’m smoke, because there are so many more dangerous things out there and they will probably kill me first”.
BEARS? Do they mean BEARS?
Anyway.
Robet Éivaayvah on November 9th, 2007 04:06 am (UTC)
I don't suppose you know the LJ feed for it?

The power of a single unit is often so underestimated because people keep forgetting that larger numbers are all made up of units. If economists really know their stuff, they'd know that if you reduced an economy to only the major transactions, you'd get a very different picture.

We do form social groups, demographics as you say, which tend to vote in similar patterns. That group is powerful, but every individual in that group who fails to vote weakens the influence of that group. And every individual who fails to vote weakens the resolve of the voters who remain.
Jacobyak_boy on November 9th, 2007 04:13 am (UTC)
Gregpeachofpain on November 9th, 2007 08:31 am (UTC)
Steven Levitt writes about some interesting things.

As for voting. In line with a previous comment, while your vote may not decide the election, certainly the magnitude of the election victory effects the amount of legitimation given to the government to effect it's policies.
Stefanblinvisible on November 9th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)
ALL economists hold the view that...
No matter how this ends, it cannot be correct. I find this so amusing.
Jacobyak_boy on November 9th, 2007 01:47 pm (UTC)
Oh, but since economics is such an exact science, the conclusions reached by any one (competent) economist are going to be the same as the conclusions reached by all (competent) economists. :)
sener4senate on November 22nd, 2007 01:50 pm (UTC)
It's in the interests of the right wing fundies, and neo-libertarians to discourage voting so their organised campaigns can have greater influence. Cynical, but a lot of underprivileged, latino's, blacks, and even idealistic educated young people believe it enough to abstain from voting, thinking it will constitute as a protest.

Prior to 2004, US federal elections used to draw on average a 40% turn out.