« resuming service shortly | Main | mysteries of the royal lifestyle »

responsible voting

Last month, around Election Day, I inadvertently provoked an impassioned rant about the ignorance of most voters, particularly those who claimed to be "issues voters" -- that we have only a vague idea, if we have any idea at all, of the daily machinery of government and how it works; that most of us couldn't even tell you what bills our representative had sponsored. Thinking this over later, I realized the basic fallacy in this person's rant as it applies to me.

I am not an "issues voter." Nor do I think I should be one.

I don't have a list of issues with a "for" or "against" tickybox next to each of them. When I read candidates' positions on "the issues", I am not matching their answers with my own. It's not that I have no opinions. It's that I don't have the time or the inclination to discover, research, and form an informed opinion on each question of law as it arises.

Fortunately for me, we have a system of representative democracy. This means that I get to cast my vote for a person whose job it is to stand in for me, and for my neighbors, and do the research and decision-making on our behalf. I have to leave it in this representative's hands to decide what he or she thinks is best for each particular issue, because it will be my representative, not me, casting the vote. I can shelve the political research and get back to the computer programming. Now we are both doing the jobs we want to do.

Since it will be my representative whose decisions will translate into votes cast for or against each of the issues that arise, I need to vote for a representative whose judgment I trust. That means that I have to select the candidate who displays the best decision-making skills compared to his or her fellow candidates. Now there are plenty of people who consider a "good decision" to be a "decision I happen to agree with", even if the person in question arrived at the decision by a completely different logic path. For these people, choosing the candidate whose votes coincide with their opinions is a reasonable selection mechanism.

It's not the selection mechanism for me, though. The candidate who will best represent me is the candidate who thinks through all aspects of an issue, understands that there are very few issues with a clear "right" and "wrong" answer, and displays solid reasoning skills to arrive at a vote on the issue in question. So when I read candidate statements, I'm looking for evidence that they have thought out their positions on The Issues, and can defend them effectively in discussion. (Yes, this makes it very hard for me to choose political candidates. Candidates' issues statements almost never display a decision-making process; the only real way for me to form an opinion is to speak to the candidate, or otherwise watch him or her debate a position.)

So this is my defense of my political ignorance. Yes, I am a reasonably intelligent voter who can't name three bills that my Senator has sponsored, and can't tell you the difference between an Authorization and an Appropriation, and don't know what "cap and trade" means. Yes, that information is out there for me to find, should I choose to invest the time. But my priorities lie elsewhere, because I live in a political system where I am allowed to leave the understanding of these things to others, and concentrate on doing the things that I do best. This is not only a fine example of the economic principle of "comparative advantage"; it is also what living in a representative democracy is all about.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Comments (2)


Just to play devil's advocate for a minute, I think some of these ranters might respond by asking whether you keep tabs on your representatives' behavior to help refine your impression of their judgment. I think that this can be instructive: politicians' behavior throughout the election cycle can be a good guide to things like partisanship, consistency of principle, ability to sense political advantage, etc., much of which may be interesting to someone with your political strategy.


Of course. I have to have some information on which to base my decision, after all. That is a very different thing from researching a list of issues, deciding my position on them, and choosing a candidate whose answers most closely match mine, though.

Also, politicians don't tend to obfuscate the things that will give me a reading of their character. That gives me a bit of an advantage over those who choose their candidates by, say, advertising campaigns.

Post a comment


Posted on December 7, 2006 1:00 AM.

Previous post: resuming service shortly

Next post: mysteries of the royal lifestyle


Creative Commons License
This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.33