Why voting for Gary Johnson is better, even if he has no chance of winning

November 5, 2012 0 By admin

Terrence posted the following video on his facebook wall. His comment (and I hope he doesn’t mind my repeating it) was:

“Irony: Whittle’s argument is garbage, and he probably knows it, but as a partisan it is rational for him to make it.” I wanted to address myself to the arguments as well, and explain why, if I could, I would be voting for Gary Johnson. But first, the promised video:

The argument is this:

1. Only two people have a realistic chance of winning. Candidate A and Candidate B.
2. There are better candidates, C and D, but no one thinks they have a chance.
3. If you vote for C or D, your vote will have no impact on who ultimately comes out the victor. It will be as though you never voted at all.
4. If you vote for A or B, however, your vote will matter to who ultimately comes out the victor.
5. A is, by your lights, a really bad candidate while B is, by your lights, also a really bad candidate, but slightly better.
6. You have an obligation to bring about the best outcome from within the feasible set.
7. The best feasible outcome is B winning.
8. Therefore, you ought to vote for B.

I have a few objections to this argument.

Consider premises 3 and 4. 4 appears to me to be false. The reason is this: Even if only A or B have a realistic chance of winning, your voting for either one of them has about as much impact on the outcome as your not voting at all. The difference is that between one in, say, 1 billion, and 1 in 10 to 60 million. At those odds, it is just as true to say that your vote does not make a difference in either case. One in 10 million (to pick the most generous option) odds does not reach the necessary bar to count as “making a difference.” Both are, effectively, as good as not voting at all. Whether you pick B or C, it would be as though you didn’t vote at all.

But look at premise 3 again. The truth is that your casting a ballot for C or D will not make a difference in this election (but neither will your choosing A or B), although it may have an impact on the next election. If C or D reach just 5% of the national vote, they will automatically be on the ballot in all 50 states come 2016. That alone is enormously significant. It is also much, much more likely that C or D will reach the needed 5% threshold with your voting for either one of them, than that your vote will tip the balance in favour of either A or B. So if getting on all of the ballots in the next election is important enough for you, you have a much easier time of being “effective” in this election by voting for either C or D, then bothering with A or B.

Let’s now take a look at premise 5 and 6. Those of us who would rather pick C over either A or B typically think the difference between A or B are orders of magnitude less than the difference between (A or B) or C to the well-being of our fellows. If I have a one in 10 million chance of being effective in the battle between A or B, and value the difference at 10 utils, then my expected utility is 10/10,000,000, or 0.0000001. But if I have a one in a billion chance of being effective in the battle between (A or B) or C, and value the difference at 10,000 utils or more, then my expected utility is 10,000/1,000,000,000 or 0.000001 (or more!). So I should pick C.

So that’s what I think of the argument, and part of the reason for why I think it’s bad.

But then there’s that bit at the very end of the video, where this guy is busy trying to tell you that your rain drop of a vote matters. It’s like he forgot what he said at the beginning about preferring Ron Paul or Gary Johnson over Mitt Romney. He basically told the people that prefer those candidates to Romney that their vote is a rain drop. If it’s not just a rain drop, then you should vote for your most preferred candidate. That would be Ron Paul or Gary Johnson. Oh, wait, it’s merely a rain drop if you vote for either one of those two? But it’s not a rain drop if you vote for Romney? I’m confused about the rain drop analogy and how it’s supposed to count in favour of voting for Romney, while not counting in favour of voting for Johnson.

Well either it is or it isn’t a rain drop. If it is, then who cares whether you vote Johnson, Paul, Romney or write in Cthulu? But if it isn’t, why would you pick anything other than your most preferred candidate?

Also, for very many of us, foreign policy is a deal breaker. For my own part, I would never vote for anyone who participates in drone striking Pakistani innocents. Or being bellicose with Iran. If a candidate is on the ballot who is busy saying things like, “peace be with you, and also with you,” that seals it for me.

Hello, Gary Johnson. Good bye, Mitt Romney.