Saturday, April 15, 2006

Strategic voting and more

We've got a conference going on, so I put my piece on strategic voting up early. All you Brown kids, vote for Laffey!


Blar said...

Neil, have you thought through the implications of advocating strategic voting? Outside of the intended effect of shifting a few primary votes, it seems like this kind of activity could have the potential to:

- undermine people's confidence in the electoral system
- make the electoral system even less effective at selecting quality people
- weaken Americans' non-partisan civic-mindedness and respect/admiration for our democratic system
- increase attention to the strategic/horse-race aspects of elections at the expense of actual issues
- further reduce voter turnout
- create a backlash against those nefarious liberals who will stop at nothing to get power

Of course, one blog post isn't likely to have much of an impact on any of these possibilities, and many of these scenarios would take several years to unfold (and require widespread strategic voting on both sides of the aisle), but on the other side of the balance sheet one blog post isn't likely to have much of an impact on the primary races, either. Farsighted consequentialist that you are, you may want to rethink how deep you want to get into this kind of scheming, especially when supporting your party in a public forum.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Blar, a lot of my decisions about what to write are driven by my perceptions of who reads the Ezra-blog. I think a lot of the people are sophisticated and intelligent partisan Democrats. Putting the idea of strategic voting into their heads doesn't strike me as bad. I wouldn't write that post if I were a newspaper op-ed columnist. But as an Ezra Klein guestblogger, I think the negative consequences you're worried about are minimal.

Blar said...

The audience makes a difference, but I'm not sure how big of a difference it makes here. A lot of the potential consequences are things that could happen in the long run if strategic voting becomes more common or more widely discussed, and I don't know if it matters very much whether some of the early steps in that direction were on partisan Democrat blogs. Some of the things could happen even among your target audience (especially that third one, loss of idealism). And you have to remember that you don't get to choose who reads your post, so plenty of people won't fit the profile that you were aiming at (and if your post gets linked somewhere, a large number of them may share some other profile).

This is one of the cases where I think that the safe thing is to rely on principles that seem pretty sound, like "don't vote in the other side's primary". Utilitarian reasoning could get you to the same place, but it'll be complicated, and the cost of erroreously deviating from the principle seems like it has the potential to be significantly larger than the cost of error in the other direction.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Maybe this is just because consequentialism has corrupted my soul, but I find idealism and strategic voting perfectly compatible. Being a double agent or a spy seems like a fine thing for an idealist to do. Mere strategic voting is much lighter than that.

Blar said...

Or maybe it's that consequentialism has purified your soul. How would we tell the difference?

Whatever the state of your soul, I think that in practice, and in the aggregate, this kind of strategic voting would tend to reduce idealism about the American political process (among strategic voters and among people aware of strategic voting). The spy and double agent examples might actually help illustrate this point, since what they're doing in those cases is undermining the other side from within in order to benefit their side, perhaps to fight for the ideals that their side represents. But they aren't supporting any overarching ideals that are bigger than that conflict. They're undermining process ideals about how the two sides should relate to each other, and in the political context that's just what these kinds of civic-minded, "yay democracy" values are.

Blar said...

On the other hand...

Apparently Chafee's wife is encouraging Democrats to disaffiliate and vote for Chafee in the Republican primary (though she also wants their votes in the general election). This is from a Republican Rhode Island political blog.