Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I also believe that the war debate fits the general game theory model that under our system, the major parties always have an incentive to appeal to traditional centrist swing voters (voters who may vote Republican or Democratic) rather than appealing to the voters on the right (voters whose choice is Republican, third party, or not voting) or left (voters whose choice is Democratic, third party, or not voting).

First, from the perspective of either party, gaining one centrist voter is worth two on the fringes. This is because that one vote adds one to your party's total while also taking one away from your opponent's. For the Democrats to gain a disgruntled liberal or the Republicans a disgruntled conservative, the party gains one vote, but it is a vote that does not come at the expense of the other party.

From the perspective of the individual voter on the right or left, it is better to fall in line with your more preferred major party as well--no matter how far it moves to the center--unless it appears that there is a third party alternative that is more favorable with a legitimate chance to win. Assuming there is no such alternative--and modern polling should be sufficient to determine which candidates have a legitimate chance as an election nears--the options a voter has are vote for their preferred major party candidate, vote for a non-viable third party candidate, and not vote. If the voter takes option two or three, for the purposes of that election they have essentially chosen to give half of their vote to each viable candidate. This is because they had an opportunity to weigh in in favor of one or the other and chose not to. If the voter truly does not have a preference between the viable candidates, that makes sense. Otherwise, it does not.

The only benefits, then, to casting a vote for a non-viable candidate or not voting when the voter does have a preference between the major party candidates, are 1) the hope that such a vote "sends a message"--beyond that, sends the right message--and the major party who the voter would have supported but didn't reads the voter's mind and changes something the next time around to accomodate that voter. This seems kind of speculative to me, and also inefficient. If changing a party's focus is the ultimate goal, it seems far more effective to actively work to influence both the preferred party's candidate/platform selection process and public opinion, which BOTH parties heed, than to passively cast a "protest" vote and hope something good happens; and 2) the personal satisfaction which comes from withholding one's vote for whatever reason--usually having to do with some sort of moral opposition to the particular candidate. Because our one personal vote is part of the larger scheme and has ramifications beyond the person and because, as noted before, the "protest" vote is really an even vote for the two (or three) major candidates, this would seem to be irrational.

Therefore, the party has the incentive to do what it has to to attract swing voters, while party stalwarts have an incentive to support the party. I would argue that the current Republican dominance is the result of conservatives acting rationally and supporting Republicans, while liberals irrationally abandon the party when they are needed most to tilt at windmills.

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