Blogs > Liberty and Power > Why Your Vote Will Never Matter

Aug 20, 2007 8:57 pm

Why Your Vote Will Never Matter

James Rothenberg explains why you should stop voting if you want to change the country.

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Anthony Gregory - 8/27/2007

"No sane person would argue that if Gore had become President we would be in a similar position."

I'll argue that. Al Gore is a warmonger and supported the first gulf war. Democrats are evil like Republicans. I don't see why we'd clearly be better off without him. Indeed, he had a bigger popular vote, so he'd probably have more consent from the population and there would be less antiwar resistance, so we could be worse under him.

Gus diZerega - 8/27/2007


Common Sense - 8/26/2007

If Voter X gains great satisfaction in doing his "civic duty" to vote, even though he knows it will likely make no difference in a large election, it seems rational to me.

Samantha Behrens - 8/25/2007

It appears that a revolution is underfoot... read bacon's rebellion review of On A Hill They Call Capital by Matt Carson, it calls for a revolution but the book contains a firm date and even stranger are the codes and recurring street names and times - anyone else find this interesting?

Gus diZerega - 8/23/2007

The argument that voting is irrational is one of the best signs that public choice (or "rational" choice) theory has a ways to go before it is a valid theory either of the public or of choice.

It assumes voting is more cost than benefit - often not true as asking anyone who votes could easily tell.

It assumes that complexity of issues remains extremely important when choice is narrowed down to one of two options - where basically flipping a coin would give you the same vote you would make if you were omniscient 50% of the time, and where in normal circumstances (and fairly counted votes) fairly simple means increase those odds to better than 50%.

It assumes the kind of thinking when making a public choice is like the kind of thinking we engage in when making a private one.

It often assumes (along with the Rothbardian praxeologists) the separateness of means from ends. This empirical claim is often and easily demonstrably false.

It also has a hard time explaining why the better educated someone is the more likely they are to vote - especially when education is positively correlated with many desirable things implying reasonably successful competence in making ones weay in the world.

None of this need be an endorsement of political democracy. My same point holds true for organizations in civil society serving public goals that have democratic voting with simple binary choices.

The more impersonal and instrumental the context, the more sense "rational" choice theory makes. Most of our lives, thank the Gods, does not occur in that context.

Bill Woolsey - 8/22/2007

I thought the basic logic of the irrationality of voting was well known.

I found it interesting that it appeared in Counterpunch!

Also, I don't agree that it implies that not voting will help bring change.

To me, it just shows that voting in order to impact the result of an election isn't sensible.

I vote regularly, and not because I consider my vote an effective means to achieve better government. Most of the time I have voted, it is for candidates who are long shots, to say the least.

I would note, however, that I once lost an election by 10 votes out of 1500.

Another time, I failed to vote in a race that was a tie with about 900 votes for each candidate. For the next two years, I had to live with the fact that I could have had a different colleague on town council, if only I had voted in that race.

The irrationality of voting doesn't imply that changing the rules about who can vote will not impact the results of elections.

While I don't believe I have a lot of influence on other people, I would suppose celebrities of varous sorts could have an impact by persuading other people to vote in a different way.

Also, while the Bush administration has been surprisingly bad, I don't think that in 2000, one could have predicted that the result of a Bush victory was death to many Iraqis. What would have been the next Serbia under a Gore administration?

I have never been a major party partisan. I would point out that I only worry that Bush will round up all the Muslim americans and put them in concentration camps. I know that Roosevelt actually did do it to Japanese Americans.

I worry that Bush might engineer some kind of incident with Iran. I know Johnson did it at the Gulf of Tonkin.

It isn't that I believe Republicans are better than Democrats. It is rather I cannot see how anyone could see Democrats as saviors.

Gus diZerega - 8/21/2007

Rothenberg's argument is rot. No sane person would argue that if Gore had become President we would be in a similar position. There are hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would likely be alive today if Gore had won. I think it would have mattered to them.

As a matter of fact the Republican Party in particular has done all it could to diminish the Democratic vote. Southern racists succeeded for 100 years in depriving Black Americans of the vote - do you think that mattered? I do.

Bad systems can get even worse. German Communists said don't support the Social Democrats in the 1930s because, they said, things need to get worse before they get better. They were right - but not in the way they thought.

No knowledgeable person would argue that voting is all that is necessary to make changes - that comes from the simpleminded and error filled argument that democracy is majority rule. It is vastly more complex than that.

There are enormous problems with the American system, that may still become a right wing fascist state. Or failing that a corrupt corporate oligarchy. But this kind of analysis is no way to get any handle at all on it.

William H. Stoddard - 8/21/2007

Perhaps I'm misreading Rothenberg's argument, but it seems to me that it has the same difficulty as the usual argument for voting.

If I vote for candidate X, or proposition P, the chance that my individual vote will decide the outcome is statistically negligible. The usual justification for voting seems to involve my acting as if I were deciding not just for myself, but for all the other voters who share my preferences, so that when I vote I am in effect deciding that all those other people will vote as well, and it may be hoped that there will be enough of us to change the outcome. But there is in fact no causal relation between my decision and theirs.

Similarly, if I decide not to vote, so that the political parties will get the message that I am indifferent to their activities (or loathe them both equally), I am faced with the fact that having one less person cast a ballot will carry a negligible weight in any significant election; likely it will fall within the statistical noise of people not getting to the polls because of random inconveniences. Only if a lot of people like me refuse to vote will a signal get through. In deciding not to vote, then, I am again acting as if I were making the decision not just for me, but for a lot of people who share my preferences. But again there is no causal relation between my decision and those of other libertarians.

In either case, there is a potential free rider problem. The collective good of the less bad candidate being elected will be produced, if it is, even if I decide not to spend the effort to vote for a candidate; the collective good of the political parties having a narrower electoral base and less security will be produced, if it is, even if I decide to go ahead and cast my vote for some candidate or proposition. Collective goods problems seem to be inherent in the electoral process, either way.