How to Avoid "Wasting Your Vote"
Written by Leon Felkins, May 26 1996
Revised May 26 1996
"In the last election, I wanted to vote for Perot, but I knew he couldn't win, so I voted for Bush instead""
- Anonymous, heard on Public Radio
Folk wisdom has it that if you vote for a candidate that has little chance of winning, you are "Wasting your vote" and, therefore, you really should vote for someone who has some chance of winning instead. This interesting bit of wisdom is shared by the
"man on the street", the college professor, and the news media persons alike. In this short essay, I will explore the ramifications of this well accepted piece of "logic" and show that the situation is not as simple as supposed and that the proposed stra
tegy is sadly misdirected.
Aspects of the Problem
Your vote from Two Perspectives
The significance of your vote depends on the perspective from which it is viewed. Of course, votes in mass determine the result of an election and your vote from that point of view -- the group view -- increases the chances of your candid
ate winning. For the persons who are soliciting votes, your vote counts in the same way that every penny counts in the million dollar cash hoard they may have.
But there is another way to look at the importance of your vote and that is from your own personal perspective. Strangely, most people do not take this view -- instead they always view their vote from the vote solicitors view, the group v
iew. From your point of view, there is a very disturbing conclusion: your vote will make no impact on the election results!
So, whether you voted for Clinton, Bush, or Perot, your vote had absolutely no impact on the election results. To emphasize this concept, let me suggest the following mental experiment: Let us say that you know that if your preferred cand
idate wins you will receive an additional tax relief of $10,000. Unfortunately, on election day, you fell deathly ill from the previous night's partying and was unable to vote. Did your missing the election result in you not getting the $10,000 break? No
So, Why Vote?
>From your perspective then, we have to conclude that determining the election results is not a rational reason for voting. But there are other reasons for voting, a major one being the internal self-satisfaction of "doing your part" for d
emocracy. This reason, along with others such as the respect of neighbors and friends, is a very legitimate reason for voting.
Avoiding "Wasting my Vote"
Then, if the reason for voting -- from the personal perspective -- is for our own personal self-satisfaction, then is it not a tragedy to not vote for the person you admire the most? We have already concluded that your vote will not actually impact the e
lection results in any way. So, why lose the major benefit of voting -- your personal satisfaction -- by voting for someone you don't really want?
The Positive Benefits of Honest Voting
>From your point of view, voting for the person you really would like to have win gives you the major benefit from voting: personal self-satisfaction. But there is another good reason that is evident when we look at the situation from the
group view. That reason is that true popular choice is realized. How can a third party ever become established -- since it must start small -- if people always follow the strategy of voting for the top two parties? Such a voting practice
completely eliminates any chance of a third party ever becoming established. Is that what we want?
>From a personal point of view, we must conclude that our tiny vote cannot impact the results of a national election. Still, we should vote and we should vote for our desired candidate. In doing so, I have the satisfaction of standing true
to my beliefs while at the same time knowing that I have not caused either of the more popular candidates to win or lose. I have not wasted my vote!!
And if we all vote honestly, new candidates and new parties that must start small, have a chance of becoming established. To vote otherwise is to endanger democracy.
(For more on what I have to say about this and related issues, visit my home page at <http://www.ios.com/leonf/>.)