Monday, April 12, 2010

The Only Strategic Voting that Works

All of us are familiar with the Goldilocks Dilemma of election voting: Three candidates are running for the same office. One is too hot, one is too cold, and the other is just right. We'll call that one Baby Bear. The problem is that Baby Bear can't win.
"How do you know that Baby Bear can't win?"
"Uh, well, I don't know—everybody knows he can't win."
"How does everybody know that?"
"Well, uh, well, look at all those gaffs he's been making."
"Oh, you mean the things he's been saying?"
"Of course."
"Well, do you agree with the things he's been saying?"
"Yes, but he shouldn't be saying them because saying them will lose support."
The conversation on that one keeps going around and around. In the end, everybody knows that Baby Bear can't win, but nobody really knows how they know. I learned a long time ago that the things “everybody” knows but don't know how they know, and that no one should question, are the very things you should question.
Here's how that scenario plays out: A lot of people who support Baby Bear would take think of Mama Bear as the lesser of two evils, and Mama Bear can't win without the support of Baby Bear supporters. The “reasoning” goes, a vote for Baby Bear would divide the lesser-of-two-evils vote and cause Papa Bear to win. Thus, we're told that a vote for Baby Bear is a vote for Papa Bear, and we shouldn't do that. Why shouldn't we? Because that's what somebody named Conventional Wisdom tells us, and we should always do as we're told—without question. Or should we?
I spent 20 years active in politics, 10 years involved in political action groups, and I helped plan and manage a few political campaigns. One of the first things a political strategist does in a campaign is check to see how people voted in past elections. He rarely examines the reasons they voted that way; he's interested only in how they voted. This helps him to plan a winning strategy.
The results of each election tell future election strategists what voters are willing to accept in the next election. Whatever gets the most votes in one election, candidates will promise more of in the next election. Whatever doesn't get votes is not even mentioned in the next election.
That's one of the reasons voters are being offered fewer and fewer desirable options in elections. When you vote against Baby Bear, you're voting against his policies. When you vote against Baby Bear's policies, you give future campaign strategists a signal that Baby Bear's policies don't get votes. It doesn't matter that you voted the way you did because you thought Baby Bear couldn't win. You voted against what Baby Bear was offering, and you won't be offered as much of it—if at all—in the next election.
There's only one kind of strategic voting that works, and that's voting on principle. Vote for Baby Bear, even if you think he can't win. You may be surprised at how much support he really has, and you won't really know until the votes are counted—assuming that they don't use Diebold vote-counting machines or the easily rigged touch-screen voting machines.
If Mama Bear's goose gets cooked because she took Baby Bear's supporters for granted, she's going to be courting them in future elections. If you want proof of this, just look at the 2008 presidential election.
In 2008, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham made a speech in which he said that old-line conservatives and libertarians had no place in the Republican Party. To him it was a neo-conservative party, and that was that. He told them in so many words to leave the Republican Party. In many states, Republican organizations violated party rules, state laws, and even federal election laws to ram their candidate through the convention. As a consequence, libertarians and old-line conservatives took Graham at his word, left the party, and the Republicans got their clocks cleaned that November.
At the same time, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Bob Barr, another neoconservative, effectively shut libertarians out of their own party.
Today, millions of Americans from across the political spectrum (including liberals who feel that they've been shut out of the Democratic Party since 2009) have formed loose-knit groups called Tea Parties. Lindsey Graham, Bob Barr, and other Establishment stuffed shirts are trying to court their votes.
Regardless of how you feel about libertarians, conservatives, or the Tea Parties, the bottom line is this: They are now riding high because they stood by their principles. On principle, they were willing to take a hit in 2008; and now they're in a stronger position for 2010 and 2012.
Stand by your principles. Vote for the person you believe should win, even if you don't believe he will. It's the only strategic voting that works.

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