[EM] Lesser-of-2-evils voting

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Tue Jan 27 02:47:02 PST 2004


When you argue that people should vote sincerely because one vote doesn't
matter, you basically describe a "tragedy of the commons" as I understand
the term.  Suppose somebody said "Well, there's no harm in wasting
electricity and water.  After all, my electricity alone isn't contributing
to a power crisis.  And my water usage alone isn't what causes strain on
the water supply in a relatively dry state like California."

I suspect your first response might be to point out ways that power
companies, energy bureaucrats, water bureaucrats, agribusiness, etc. all
manipulate the markets for these commodities.  Even so, we can still
consider the hypothetical case of an individual living in a situation
where the resource constraints are real and dictated by nature, not
artificially dictated by crony capitalism.

So, what do you say to the person who wants to waste resources?  It isn't
any one person that strains resources, it's millions of people.  You can
call for laws dictating that he can only buy the most efficient light
bulbs, and that he must use low flow showerheads and toilets and what not.
 However, even the most efficient light bulb is wasting energy if it's
running when you don't need it.  So there are limits to how much relief
mandates can provide.  In the end, there's no getting around the fact that
his individual usage has been multiplied by millions of people, and that's
what's straining resources.  The individual cannot point to his own
insignificance to avoid responsibility.

Now consider elections.  I'll leave aside your argument that the Dems and
GOP are equally bad because it is a political point specific to a
particular context.  I'll just stick to your other point, that even if
there is a difference your vote is still too tiny to matter, because that
point pertains to any debate over any election strategy, even if the
candidates are Pete Camejo and Dick Cheney.

Sure, your one vote probably won't matter, even if (especially if?) you
live in Florida.  The margin in FL was somewhere between 100 and 2000
votes depending on which after-the-fact recount you believe.  In any case,
it was pretty tiny.  But it was still bigger than one vote.  Once again, a
person who voted for a "doomed" candidate can say "My vote alone wouldn't
have changed anything."  Just like the person wasting resources can say
that his vote alone wouldn't matter.  The fact is, collectively the people
who voted for that "doomed" candidate DID matter if the election was close

Now, there may be good long-term reasons to vote third party.  I happen to
think so.  I think there is good to be gained in the long term from
sending a message even if it means a "greater evil" beats a "lesser evil"
in the short term.  But despite that, there's no denying that actions have
consequences.  I advocate voting third party because I believe the
long-term benefits OUTWEIGH THE DISADVANTAGES, not because I believe there
are no disadvantages.

So if you want to vote third party, by all means do so.  I certainly do. 
But don't try to falsely insist that there's no connection between your
vote and the outcome.  Instead, just argue that this is about long-term
good, not the short term.


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