Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Doubtful Choice for 2016

In this historic election (Is it really? "They" always say it is.), many voters are trying to figure out which candidate to vote against. Both are deplorable—or "deplorables" to use one candidate's word. (I would not care to know or even meet either of them.) The following is a strategy that you might consider regardless of your political proclivities. I set out my thinking here without making any endorsement. I will not recommend Clinton or Trump or any of the third party candidates of whom I am aware. (For the record they are—in alphabetical order: Darrell Castle, Constitution Party; Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party; Evan McMullin, Independent; and Jill Stein, Green Party.)

Senator Ted Cruz, in coming out for presidential candidate Donald Trump, said that every voter faces five choices in this election:

Voting for Hillary Clinton,
Voting for Donald Trump,
Voting for a third party candidate,
Voting for a write-in candidate,
Not voting for anyone.

I would narrow it to four choices because two of his choices, the third-party and write-in vote, are virtually the same with a negligible statistical difference in their potential influence on the outcome of the race. In reality, only either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. What impact will your vote make on that “binary choice”? Actually, statistically speaking, not much of one.

Voting is a civic ritual in which I believe as an article of democratic-republican faith, and the popular vote will indirectly help to determine who the next president will be, but my individual vote will not likely change the outcome. Indeed, the lesson I took away from the close presidential election in Florida in 2000 was not that “every vote counts and especially so in a close election,” but that the closer the election, the less my vote will count, because if there is a recount, someone else, a third party, will reinterpret my vote and potentially change it. (A corollary concern is whether, if I leave the presidential contest blank on my ballot, some corrupt official will punch their favorite candidate for me.) So my actual choice is more strategic. If we assume that, like me, most people are voting against one of the two main candidates rather than voting for one of them, we must look at the odds.

If I am willing to take moral responsibility for voting for the lesser of the two deplorable candidates, then I might just decide that, since one is worse than the other, I will vote for the other without any qualms or further deliberation. An alternative to making this decision ahead of time would be to wait to see how the pre-election polls are shaking out in my state or county. If we pretend for a moment that my vote does count, it might help to vote against the worst candidate if the worst candidate is leading. If they are close, theoretically this might even make a difference. But if the lesser of two evils is winning in the pre-election polls, then my strategy would be not to vote for either candidate. That way I am not responsible for the lesser of two evils winning and the worst candidate would not win in my state or locality anyway. This is a matter of fine distinctions, of course, because it matters how close the polls are. If the race is very close and the lesser of two evils is slightly in the lead, then I might want to vote against the worst candidate in order to make sure that he or she loses.

On the other hand, if the polls clearly show that the lesser of two evils is winning by a comfortable margin in my state or county, then there is no point in my voting for him or her. My strategy would then be one of voting for a third-party candidate or not voting for president at all. If that turns out to be the case, my current preference is to vote for a third party candidate. This would not be a viable choice for me if I had not been able to find a half-way decent candidate. I strongly reject three of the four that I am aware of and am not super enthusiastic about the one for whom I would be willing to vote as a last resort.

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