12 Apr 2016

Explanations for Behavior

Election 37 Comments

Consider the following three statements:

(1) “I’m arranging the magnets on my fridge to say ‘Cruz’ because he can beat Hillary in the general election.”

(2) “Instead of picking a listed candidate, I’m writing in the phrase ‘the choice of the majority’ for the primary, because it would be hilarious if 51% of the other voters did that too.”

(3) “I’m voting for Cruz in the primary because he can beat Hillary.”

I have never heard anyone say (1) or (2), but there are people saying (3). I submit that if you think through why (1) and (2) are nonsensical, you will see why (3) is also.

37 Responses to “Explanations for Behavior”

  1. Keshav Srinivasan says:

    Bob, what point are you trying to make? Are you making the standard “voting is irrational because your vote is vanishingly unlikely to be the deciding vote” point that economists often make or are you saying something else?

    • Bob Murphy says:

      That would be statement (1). Then someone might come back with a response, but that would probably be statement (2). So the challenge is to justify (3) with something that wouldn’t also justify either (1) or (2).

      • E. Harding says:

        OK, I’m starting to get it.

      • Keshav Srinivasan says:

        Well, what about the argument that Ted Cruz beating Hillary Clinton would be of tremendous benefit to hundreds of millions of people, whereas (2) would just give you a mild sense of amusement? (I’m just playing Devil’s advocate, not saying that Ted Cruz is better than Hillary.)

        Let me put it this way: if for some reason a vote was being held concerning “Should the Earth be destroyed?” wouldn’t you vote not to destroy the Earth, rather than just saying “My vote won’t almost certainly won’t affect the outcome”?

      • guest says:

        We all saw Republicans essentially do #2 in 2012 when they threw their vote behind Romney.

        I’m right, aren’t I?

        The argument went: Romney’s the only one who has enough support to beat Obama, so there’s no point in “wasting your vote” for Ron Paul.

        • Grane Peer says:

          I’ve been watching Republicans do #2 for most of my life that’s why nobody showed up for Romney. Paul didn’t get the wasted vote treatment, he got the swept under the rug treatment, I think.

          • E. Harding says:

            Guys, this primary season has restored my faith in the Democratic process; making me understand that this whole primary system is not just purely a product of the party oligarchy. I have therefore concluded libertarianism is unpopular, especially among older Republicans.

            • Craw says:

              I agree. I am no Trump fan but I am a big fan of the revolt of the abused voters that Trumpism represents. The parties are trying to fiddle the game, and they might well succeed, but they will suffer for it.

  2. E. Harding says:

    I don’t get it. Especially #1.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      Now you know how I feel E. Harding when people explain their “strategic” reasons for voting for someone they think is a scumbag.

  3. E. Harding says:

    I voted for Trump, because only he could win the nomination (and because I think he’s the best candidate and most likely to lose the cities less badly than Romney).

  4. Craw says:

    I suppose Murphy is making some point about the 51% making 3 redundant, but of course that’s a silly argument. The electorate for the primary and the election are different, so I cannot rely on the 51% of the general electorate.i happen to think Kasich would beat Hillary, but it seems he cannot beat either Trump or Cruz in the gop. But I support him because I think he can win and the others will lose. Other than Keshav’s point, why is this like arranging magnets?

    • E. Harding says:

      Very reasonable, Craw.

  5. Andrew_FL says:

    I dunno, depending on individual valuations and beliefs they all seem perfectly valid explanations to me.

    The fallacy is saying “That’s my reason, and for the same reason, you should too!” If the person has different beliefs or preferences than you, those rationales may fail to make sense.

  6. Matt Miller says:

    I think that #3 comes with an obvious unstated implication of “And I am operating under the assumption that ANY Republican will be vastly superior to ANY Democrat”

    If that assumption holds true, then voting for Cruz “because he can beat Hillary” is somewhat logical.

  7. Capt. J Parker says:

    Yeah, democracy is so over-rated. Important decisions like selecting leaders shouldn’t be left to an unwashed hoard of illogical bumpkins like me that couldn’t reason their way out of a wet paper bag. Fortunately, an increasing number of important leadership decisions can now be made by enlightened experts within the administrative state. Perhaps we should ask those experts who they are voting for? Any guesses?

  8. J Mann says:

    The problem is unless you solve 1, voting is irrational enough that any reason is as good as any other for voting. Otherwise, how do you respond to:

    (4) I do not vote for Aragorn for President, because even though I think he would make a better president than anyone else, I think he cannot win because he is constitutionally ineligible, not running, and also fictional.

    Once you say there’s no good reason to vote for the best candidate you believe can win, then what reason do you have to limit your choice to the candidates who are running? (I guesd you could argue you are participating in an opinion poll, but that solves the Cruz problem too)

  9. Josiah says:

    There is a slight chance that 3 could affect the outcome of the election. Granted, the odds of it doing so are incredibly low, but if the difference in outcomes is great enough, it can still make sense to do it. That’s not true of the first two options.

    • Bob Murphy says:

      There could be a train of events such that writing “Cruz” on my fridge causes him to be president and not Hillary Clinton.

      • Josiah says:

        Such as?

        • Craw says:

          Callahan goes to visit Murphy and high fives Bob over his perspicacious choice: “Yeah! The dildo ban guy! My man!” This alerts Bob to Cruz’s position on dildo bans, converting Bob to a real voter. Bob convinces Mrs Bob and they both voter for the first time, casting ballots for Cruz. Cruz wins the state by 1 vote, leading to a 1 vote win in the electoral college too.

          • Andrew_FL says:

            A comment unworthy of even your level of intelligence, Craw.

            • Craw says:

              It’s no stupider a scenario than Bob’s claim the magnets could elect Cruz. I agree it’s a foolish idea! Hence my mockery.

              • Andrew_FL says:

                I more meant your obsession with carnal implements.

              • Craw says:

                If you don’t believe that Callahan’s ideal is rule by priests you need to read his blog more. It’s between every line.

  10. Scott H. says:

    What’s the most important criteria here? Is it that you want a particular person to be President, or do you want a particular person *not* to become President? The reasoning in #3 is solid if you don’t want a Clinton Presidency (as long as you think Cruz is the only/best candidate that can beat Clinton).

  11. Jim says:

    Actually, I’m going with (2).

  12. J Mann says:

    Douglas Hofstatter’s theory for this problem was that although my individual vote almost certainly won’t change anything, I can hypothesize that there are some number of other people who think like me, and by making our decision, we’re all collectively acting.

    I’m probably getting that wrong in some important ways, and also don’t agree with it personally, but if we’re asking this question descriptively — “why do some people vote for an otherwise second choice candidate on the rationale that they believe that candidate has a better chance of winning than their otherwise first choice (or vote at all)”, it’s possible that they’re acting from some collectivist intuition.

    It’s a fact that Ted Cruz won’t get elected unless enough people who prefer him to Hillary show up in the primaries and general, even if it’s also true that any one person’s vote doesn’t matter. It might also be a fact that even if everyone who prefers Trump to Hillary shows up in the general, he still won’t win, or that if too many people vote for Kasich, Trump will win the primary and not the general.

    So it’s a collective action problem, right? If I prefer Kasich or Trump to Cruz but think that unless Cruz wins the nomination, the GOP will lose, then it’s true that my personal vote doesn’t matter, but if enough people conclude that, I don’t get my preferred outcome. If I defect, I get whatever the benefits are of voting for my first choice (or the benefits of not voting altogether), but if enough people with my views defect, we all lose.

    Disclosure: I was very busy on primary day, so I didn’t vote, on the theory that my individual vote has very little value. But I’d strongly prefer that people who don’t agree with me believe that their vote doesn’t matter, and that people who do did not believe that, or at least acted like we didn’t.

    Second disclosure Now that I’ve written all that, I feel bad. I’m a defector and a free rider. I guess I’ll make an extra effort to vote from here on out, and I will vote based on both my preference and whether I believe the candidate can win.

    • J Mann says:

      I should also say that based on Bob’s premise, either I haven’t thought through (1) and (2) or Bob’s premise is not universal.

    • J Mann says:

      Bob – sorry for the word salad above. My position was evolving as I wrote, and I should have edited. Let me know if a restatement would be helpful. JM

  13. Craw says:

    Let’s say that as a team we are playing Rock, Paper, Scissors with Hillary Clinton. Winner gets to control the planet. Hillary has already played Rock. Now our team gets to vote on our play. I don’t want Hillary to rule the planet, so I vote Paper.

    Why is this stupid?

    • Andrew_FL says:

      Because you said above you’re voting for rock.

      • Craw says:

        Translation: you don’t have an answer.
        Which I guess is actually an improvement.

        • Andrew_FL says:

          Craw, I don’t have an answer for why it doesn’t make sense because I don’t think that it categorically doesn’t make sense. See my first comment above.

          • Craw says:

            You think rock is spelt p-a-p-e-r?

  14. Andrew_FL says:

    Bob I can’t tell if you’ve forgotten that action is rational as such or that’s actually the stealthy point you’re trying to make.

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