On Voting the Lesser of Two Evils
So the presidential race may come down to a contest between McCain and Obama. Since each candidate is scary in his own way, many people would then vote based on the principle of choosing the lesser evils. Let’s examine that principle here, and also tie some concepts of decision theory.
First, regardless of which candidate is worse, both are pretty bad. If McCain wins, America might continue an aggressive and unrealistic foreign policy. If promise-happy Obama wins, we may have economic problems. Either way, the country could be worse-off in four years.
But what we need to consider is the marginal difference in expected disutilities (harms) associated with each candidate. I’d suggest that, while the dangers associated with each one are different, the net expected disutility, that is to say, the net value of their different harms over the next four years, is just about the same in either case. You might give the edge to Obama or to McCain, but overall they’re likely to be about equally deleterious.
After four years we can remove the winner from office; from that point forward it won’t matter much which was president. Therefore, if our only concern is to choose between McCain and Obama, we don’t need to consider expected utilities after 4 or 8 years .
We might add here that it’s probably no coincidence that both candidates are so unappealing. The status quo, the System, the financial-media-military-industrial-political complex — whatever you want to call it — seeks to control the population by divide-and-conquer tactics. To that end it has produced two completely polarizing candidates, each sure to frighten half the population into voting for the other candidate. It’s a perfect way to perpetuate the System, along with it’s political manifestation, the Republican/Democrat mega-party.
But now let’s include in our analysis the option of voting for a third-party candidate — someone with some really progressive ideas, like:
- serious election reform,
- lobbying reform,
- term limits, or a
- flat tax.
People tend to think, “but a third-party vote would not do enough to prevent McCain (or Obama) from winning.” But we’ve already conceded that you don’t gain much by voting against the worse candidate here.
If you vote third-party this year, while there might not be an immediate payoff, there will be payoffs when the next election comes around.
If Americans in significant numbers vote for third-parties, politicians will get the message. Further, *we* will get the message. Your third-party vote is a message of hope, optimism, and determination to your fellow Americans. It says, “I haven’t given up, and neither should you.” And “We are still in charge of this country!”
If enough people do this, then, come the next election, we might see term-limits and election reform back on the table as issues. We might see some real change. And, in theory, it could happen even sooner. Further, this will be a signal for positive change not just in our country, but in other countries, which closely follow American politics
While it might seem unlikely, what if 50% of voters cast their ballots for third-party candidates? That would really shake people up Washington, the media, and a lot of other places.
The bottom line is that if you extend your calculations beyond the next four year and into the next 10, 20, or 100 years, then, given the choices, the logic seems compelling for a third-party vote.