05 May 2016

Voting “Strategically” Is Nonsense

Big Brother, Game Theory 24 Comments

If this doesn’t start a bunch of fights, I don’t know what will. An excerpt:

Immanuel Kant famously posited the Categorical Imperative, which says that you ought to obey rules that you can consistently wish others to obey. Even more famously, Jesus posited the golden rule.

I have no problem with any of this. Indeed, as a Christian I often follow moral rules that in a sense are “tilting at windmills,” but I do it because I want to maintain my own conscience amidst a crazy world.

But how does that justify voting “strategically”? If you are going to vote out of principle, then vote for someone who actually represents your values. It makes no sense at all to “hold your nose” and “vote for the lesser of two evils,” if you think you’re acting on principle.

No, the only sense it would make to “vote strategically” for someone you actually despise, is if you thought your vote individually would affect the outcome.

Yet we’ve already demonstrated above that your vote WON’T actually affect the outcome. You personally have no influence whatsoever over who the next president is, at least insofar as we’re considering your action in the voting booth. So there is no justification for voting for a person you don’t think is actually the best human on planet earth to be president.

Although he wasn’t talking about voting per se, Gene Callahan had some similar thoughts on our current political system over at his blog.

24 Responses to “Voting “Strategically” Is Nonsense”

  1. E. Harding says:

    Was a comment of mine deleted?

  2. E. Harding says:

    Whatever. I disagree. Voting is a classic collective action problem. Your vote might not affect the outcome, but your vote combined with those of a few thousand others might. And in races of less than about a thousand voters, the winner may well win by one vote.

    In first-pass-the-post elections, all voting is strategic.

    • Dan says:

      “Your vote might not affect the outcome, but your vote combined with those of a few thousand others might.”

      What? How does that counter the fact that you are one man, and as one man you are meaningless in the outcome of a presidential election. You might get some mental benefit from voting but it is undeniable that whether you vote or not, it will have no impact on who wins.

      • Craw says:

        This is exactly the argument that your decision to buy or not to buy has no effect on the price.

    • guest says:

      It’s probably not being said right.

      Tom Woods recounted a version of this argument that basically says that “your vote combined” is functionally equivalent to saying that your vote only counts in the event of a tie – which is hardly ever.

      Maybe I’ll see if I can find the video where he says it. It’s pretty thought provoking. He goes through this series of steps from total slavery to basically what we have now, then asks the question: At what point did you stop being a slave?

      Excellent argument if I can find it.

      • Tel says:

        I’m bothered by that logic. Let’s start with “Arrow’s impossibility theorem” which declares that all systems of voting are “imperfect” because of the possibility that someone becomes “dictator” with individual power to choose the outcome.


        At the same time Arrow is busy proving there are dictators running around spoiling democracy, we have libertarians running around saying “Your vote doesn’t count.” Well, these two things cannot simultaneously be true.

        Point is, yes of course somewhere there is a pivotal vote, but at the time of casting the ballot no individual has knowledge of whether he / she is the pivotal voter or not. Arrow’s theorem is rubbish because it presumes that knowledge exists amongst the voters in a secret ballot where such knowledge is not possible.

        The result is that statistically speaking, every vote has an effect because it could be pivotal. This is not “imperfect”, it is entirely reasonable. That’s what decision making is all about.

        • guest says:

          Something I thought of while attempting to understand Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem (failed) is that it’s actually impossible to translate individual preference rankings into a social preference ranking, since groups can’t prefer anything.

          Also, it seems to me that if voters can accept any outcome that was possible for them to vote on, then they are already willing to accept their least desirable outcome in principle – making voting a waste of time.

          What would be the problem with a dictator, in that scenario, so long as it was an option that could be voted on?

          The only kind of objection one could have to this would have to be based on individual preferences among the voters: some people are clearly losing, and are therefore not *really* part of the so-called “collective”.

          I did notice that Arrow correctly based his assessments on cardinal versus ordinal utility. Nice.

          • guest says:

            I mean ordinal versus cardinal.

            • guest says:

              In which case it is “Not nice”.



    • Craw says:

      It also effects future options. Parties react to losses. It makes perfect sense say to vote for Ron Paul in the primary to try to shift party policy, rather than because you think him a good leader, or to vote for Ralph Nader for the same reason.

  3. skylien says:

    I would vote for the lesser of two evils if I knew what it was and if there really was a chance to change something.

    Neither is the case.

    • guest says:

      What’s astonishing about the “lesser of two evils” argument is that proponents have been conditioned to think that there’s no other choice, when, constitutionally, you’re supposed to secede.

      • skylien says:

        Right, but I would not secede alone of course, very impractical even if allowed. There needs to be an appropriate amount of people.

        • Tel says:

          In which case “Strategic Voting” would be to vote for the greater evil, knowing that systematic bad governance will bring more people across to the side of secession.

          This would explain the support that the Bush family had.

  4. Tel says:

    The concept of “Strategic Voting” goes a bit like this: you have a voter who genuinely wants Hillary to win (yes they exist, don’t blame me, talk to God if you are looking for the complaints department) and this person happens to live in an open primary state. Maybe they think Cruz or Carson could beat Hillary, so they vote Trump in the primary with the hope that the Republicans will end up with a candidate who can’t win.

    That’s how the theory works at any rate. We can argue whether it has ever worked in practice.

    Preferential voting doesn’t fix this BTW.

    • Craw says:

      It elected Social Credit in British Columbia. They used a transferable vote system in case of no majority, and the little known fringe party was everyone’s second choice!

      • Tel says:

        Yeah, in Australia we got Ricky Muir of the Motoring Enthusiast Party.


        As a matter of fact I kind of like the guy, but I admit he did sneak in on very low primary votes and a lot of unexpected preferences.

        Could have been to voters wanted to stick a thumb in the eye of all the CO2 wowsers… speaking strictly for myself, I know that’s what I find attractive about Ricky.

  5. DZ says:

    Less of two evils isn’t the best way to put it. One candidate says 2+2=5, the other 3. Vote for whom is more right. Neither offers anything which fits in a libertarian political framework or has any understanding of Austrian econ. Further, as Bob has said before, the entire paradigm is wrong. How can you vote for someone to do a job which you know no one can adequately perform.

  6. Josiah says:

    I tend to agree. You should vote for the candidate who you think would do the best job if elected.

    • Craw says:

      Would you apply this if you were one of 7 electors? Would you apply this if you could see all the other votes cast before you cast your votes?

      I tend to agree with you, in reverse. I usually vote against the worst choice. (Didn’t work the last two times.)

      • Tel says:

        McCain would have been worse than Obama… and I’m not endorsing what Obama has done by saying that.

  7. Craw says:

    Callahan in other places argues that Romney would have been much worse than Obama. Exactly the same but worse. Well, better than his God posts, or his Turing posts I suppose.

  8. Adrian Gabriel says:

    I agree with Dr Murphy about voting…..don’t. It’s a waste of time and our votes never count. I think I remember Dr Murphy posting in the past that it’s statistically more possible to die in a car crash on the way to the voting booth than having your vote actually make a difference. Educating the populous and doing our best within our own lives to live as moral as we can is the best way to make a difference.

    As a matter of fact George Carlin had the best description of voting: https://youtu.be/2Jnf9GILjFM

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