Strategic Voting and Lesser-Evilism

Is it possible to cast an honest vote for a Democrat or a Republican?  Under the two-party state, a significant proportion – if not an outright majority – of voters in the United States cast their ballots for the "lesser evil" between the candidates of the legacy parties.  The vote in support of the lesser evil is not in fact a vote in support of that particular candidate, rather it is a vote against the other candidate, the greater evil.  J. Todd Ring provides a philosophical analysis of lesser-evilism and strategic voting.  Excerpt:
While I can of course see the rationale for strategic voting, there is much to be said for voting with one’s conscience. When we consistently choose the lesser of two evils, our choices are reduced to evil, and the results are evil. When everyone holds their nose and votes, essentially, for one of the parties or candidates of the status quo, believing no other option is feasible or can succeed, this collective act of despair becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: and low and behold, all other options are nullified – by our own act of choosing not to support them. . . .

How does a new party or a minor party build itself to a major force in politics? Certainly not by people choosing between the lesser of two evils and voting “strategically.” I’d almost be inclined to say that voting strategically is voting idiotically, for it is a vote of despair, a fatalistic action that presumes no major change is possible. While this is not entirely true, there is a great deal of truth to that picture painted. Maybe we should trust our conscience and common sense more often, and leave the horse racing to the track. This is not a game: it is our future . . .

25 comments:

Solomon Kleinsmith said...

Actually... a huge number of people don't vote.

Sadly though, I am one of those that does go with the lesser evil about half of the time. I don't think my state, or congressional district (my state splits electoral votes by CD), is going to be in play this time around, but if it is, and it looks like one or the other party will have a majority in both houses of congress, then unless some loon like Palin or Bachmann is the nominee, there is a good chance I'll vote for the candidate who is not the same party as the one who I think will be in power in the legislative branch. If not... I'd guess I'll not vote, or write someone in. Unless Huntsman stops moving to the right and somehow manages to get the nod.

TiradeFaction said...

I think it's around 60% (on average) that don't vote, I can't blame them, there's little reason to do so in our system.

The main issue with "strategic voting" though is that it's not very strategic at all, if one takes into account policy goals as an end goal. Addressing that should be paramount, but with the media so entrenched and controlled, that'd be a monumental task...

Samuel Wilson said...

There are two alternatives to lesser evilism. You either assume that neither major party is evil, and that your vote for an independent won't do major damage to the country by "allowing" one major party or the other to win, or you assume that both parties are evil and the victory of either is intolerable. In one case, voting for independents is simply preferable; in the other, it's imperative. Which is the more reasonable approach? It depends on whether you believe that neither or both of the major parties is responsible for the state of the country. The really unreasonable approach is to assume that only one is.

David Weller, OSL said...

I've been a proponent of multiple parties with Proportional Representation; however, American voters' tendency to line up into just two sides on any critical race or issue forever denies that ooption. And, since the two major parties are at war against each other for one-party supremacy right now, the future looks even darker.
And, with money politics getting louder voices, we are becoming the Bribery Party. This gives the voters less and less a say on who they want for their representatives, regardless of how they decide to vote.

DLW said...

We should be voting strategically, or quasi-strategically, and engaging in civil-disobedience on behalf of strategic election reform: more multi-seated "more local" elections and more two-stage or IRV "less local" elections...


dlw

DLW said...

What's crucial is for blocks of people to vote strategically or quasi-strategically together in order to force the major party candidates to change their positions or behaviors.

In the last presidential election, I decided I'd vote strategically for whichever of the two top candidates ran a cleaner campaign...

As just one person, it don't mean a thing, but with enuf folks doing the same and sharing similar notions of what is "clean" or dialogging with each other just prior to the election on who deserves their votes the most, it could make a diff!

Is it ideal, no but it's the best strategy available given our current election rules.
dlw

TiradeFaction said...

I believe the idiom "easier said than done" comes to mind ;)

DLW said...

Ya got better ideas?

The point is that if life gives you the potential to spoil an election or to raise up an issue via strategic voting, it's best to make that issue the issue that'll give you far more voice in future elections than any other possible reform.

dlw

TiradeFaction said...

There's plenty of good ideas out there, implementing them on the other hand...

David Weller, OSL said...

I'm doing some research for my next post at All Things Reform; it will concern "political power and the public." Take, for instance, this Brookings article on the problem of defining the true preferences of the public in relation to public policy; its last couple of paragraphs makes some conclusions. It's at http://www.brookings.edu/articles/2003/summer_elections_bartels.aspx
Hope this helps some.

TiradeFaction said...

From what I can gather, the paper is essentially trying to convey (in it's own way) the contradiction of "rule by the people" and the fact that sometimes, the public just isn't right. The latter is very true, but to me, trying to engineer yourself out of that problem only makes things far worse. The key is balance, but such a perfect balance is impossible. Just muddle through how you can, and see what works and doesn't is my philosophy.

TiradeFaction said...

Also, I should add, with a massive and distorted media infrastructure like we have in the United States, issues of confusion and under informed opinions are only significantly exacerbated.

David Weller, OSL said...

I think he's saying that the people must establish a normative of an issue before our representatives can make an accurate survey of what we want (broken down by answer.)
This assumes that our lawmakers only ask we, the people, and not special interests, who already have established their own respective normatives.

TiradeFaction said...

Well, it's pretty hard to establish what "the people" even actually want, given they're subjected to constant propaganda and an inadequate education structure to deal with these civic issues.

However, as you pointed out, it's not like they ask only "the people" what they want, in fact, in some cases, they don't much at all. The same Bartels ran a study in the 90s that found out Senators (on both parties) aren't responsive to the income brackets of the poor & middle class really much at all, and almost entirely on their wealthy "constituents".

David Weller, OSL said...

Well, in one respect, a better education often gives one a better voice and a civics knowledge to use it. On the other hand, is it not true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, e.g. the poor and middle class?

TiradeFaction said...

Explain "On the other hand, is it not true that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, e.g. the poor and middle class?" I'm not sure I understand what you mean in this particular context?

David Weller, OSL said...

Of course; I'm just moving with this thread.. You stated that US senators answer only to the wealthy people. I'm following up, that should not those senators, instead, address the weakest link of "we, the people" and their problems, e.g. the poor and middle class for priority when lawmaking?
How do we, the people effect public policy? Our population's normative should always keep the poor and middle class as policy outcome priority.

TiradeFaction said...

"I'm following up, that should not those senators, instead, address the weakest link of "we, the people" and their problems, e.g. the poor and middle class for priority when lawmaking?"

Yes, I completely agree. I was simply pointing out a reality (or at least a study with strong empirical evidence to back it up), I wasn't saying I agreed with such a reality.

"Our population's normative should always keep the poor and middle class as policy outcome priority."

You're preaching to the choir here. I grew up in poverty and my political persuasions are very much attuned towards that demograph.

As for how we effect public policy? I don't have the answers there, but my feeling is it'll be a multi pronged approach, involving many tactics, one of them including alternative parties. I have my fair share of ideas, but they'll require more research to fine tune, and what I feel I could get the people in my community enthusiastic about.

David Weller, OSL said...

I'll just point out that the running petition to overturn the Citizens United decision, in order to restore pre-eminence of the people's voice over that of unions and corporations, is priority one.
http://democracyisforpeople.org/

TiradeFaction said...

While I support such efforts in principle, I feel (at the moment) they're foolhardy. Plus it's not like pre Citizens United corporations hadn't already bought out our political process. Federal constitutional amendments are simply near impossible in our current system, at least without the backbone of a massive movement nation wide willing to commit to it. I feel the answers probably lie in a mix of local and state reforms, particularly in state's with citizens initiative & referendums. We must act locally, and grow up from there. It's not like you go from 3 feet to 6 feet in one day...my 0.02

DLW said...

A whole lot of those ideas require US Constitutional Amendments or are without precedent or have negative precedents (like with Campaign Finance Reform).

To get people to form good opinions on what's the right thing to do, you gotta reduce the amount of heat in our polity. The reason there's so much heat in our polity is because the system tilts too easily to effective single-party rule. The reason it tilts too easily to effective single-party rule is because we mainly use single-seated winner-take-all elections.

Sometimes, the road forward is in fact pretty narrow and not 100% a matter of opinion.

dlw

DLW said...

I just told the democracyisforpeople folks that they're taking the wrong way forward.

We gotta overturn this thinking that we need a US constitutional amendment to make things work.
dlw

David Weller, OSL said...

Are you saying that the constitutional amendment won't come to pass, because, even though there's a super-majority of eager people that want it, their legislators across the country don't?

TiradeFaction said...

"Are you saying that the constitutional amendment won't come to pass, because, even though there's a super-majority of eager people that want it, their legislators across the country don't? "

Unfortunately that is very true...

Plenty of issues many many people agree on, but never come close to getting legislated. Thus, we probably need different tactics to get our desired reforms through the coils of our chambers of "government". What tactics would work? I have no idea, and I doubt anyone does. We still need a lot of testing, and enthusiastic people.

David Weller, OSL said...

FYI, I've just posted my latest blog, on entrenched political power and places for reform. It's a survey of leading NGOs' and periodicals' latest articles.
Interesting ideas, some of which aren't new.
http://www.allthingsreform.org/2011/06/survey-of-us-political-power-and.html

 
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