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Is An Uninformed Vote Better Than No Vote? 1048

Posted by Cliff
from the voter-responsibility dept.
ras_b asks: "I don't pay attention to politics at all, and so I will not be voting in today's elections. My family has been telling me that this is a mistake and I should vote anyway, partly because I have slightly conservative views which agrees with their political outlook. My reasoning is that since I am totally uninformed, I shouldn't vote. I don't want to vote Republican or Democrat, only to find out later I totally disagree with something a candidate stands for. So, here's my dilemma and my question: Is an uninformed vote better than no vote?" This issue is touched upon in a posting by Ezra Klein, of the The American Prospect, who disagrees, arguing against a similar assertion by Greg Mankiw, from a suppressed Fortune article. Greg says: "Sometimes...the most responsible thing a person can do on election day is stay at home ... If you really don't know enough to cast an intelligent vote, you should be eager to let your more informed neighbors make the decision." What do you think?
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Is An Uninformed Vote Better Than No Vote?

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  • by flaming-opus (8186) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:40PM (#16757865)
    you could have surfed over to your local newspaper's webpage and become reasonable informed.

    It's not that hard to find out a cantidate's position on ten or fifteen topics. No matter who you elect, they will do something you don't like, but you can get a pretty good idea in fifteen minutes.

    Hop to it.
  • Re:Has no affect (Score:4, Informative)

    by OakDragon (885217) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:40PM (#16757873) Journal

    Something I read over lunch today was germane to this discussion. As I was ready to post the link, I read your comment first thing.

    The link: http://www.cato-unbound.org/2006/11/06/bryan-capla n/the-myth-of-the-rational-voter/ [cato-unbound.org]

    Quote from the first paragraph:

    There's an election tomorrow. Do voters know what they're doing? According to the typical economist -- and many political scientists -- the answer is "No, but it doesn't matter." How could it not matter? The main argument is that the public's errors cancel out.
  • Re:So dont vote (Score:2, Informative)

    by loolgeek (717288) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:44PM (#16758047)
    Some countries allow to vote "blank", this means "I want to vote, I disagree with all your candidates/propositions". The "blank" votes are very important to measure, first the number of people willing to vote (blank + non-blank), and also it estimates the number of people who are not represented otherwise by the usual candidates/propositions. That's why I always say to people to vote "blank" if they think unsure or not informed enough. Maybe US should think about having "blank" vote available...
  • laziness (Score:4, Informative)

    by capoccia (312092) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:44PM (#16758049) Journal
    it really doesn't take that long to find out the candidate's positions. the league of women voters does a good job of consolidating all the information i needed.
  • It's not the voters (Score:5, Informative)

    by Control Group (105494) * on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:46PM (#16758105) Homepage
    It's the voting system. The very nature of our plurality system ("one man, one vote," winner take all) will inevitably lead to a two-party system, because that's the only way to extract meaningful information out of the process. To quote the wikipedia entry on voting method [wikipedia.org], "[m]ost systems showed some potential advantage over Plurality, in many cases greater than the advantages of Plurality over monarchy."
  • by transporter_ii (986545) * on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:55PM (#16758345) Homepage
    If you know a person is good, vote for him regardless of which party he or she is in. If you don't know, vote Libertarian. If there is no Libertarian, don't vote (or vote for another third party on the ballot with which you agree, if there is one).

    The country goes the same direction no matter which party is in control. As it is sometimes said, both parties are running a train toward a cliff, it is just that one party wants to go off the cliff a litter faster than the other party. I don't want to go off the cliff fast or slow, so I'm not going to vote for either one of them (unless there is someone really good running, like a Ron Paul Republican).

    However, a vote for a third party, such as the Libertarians, sends a much more powerful message than not voting.

    Transporter_ii
  • Not necessarily (Score:3, Informative)

    by benhocking (724439) <benjaminhocking@@@yahoo...com> on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @05:57PM (#16758389) Homepage Journal

    If truly random, then the expected deviation from the expected mean varies as the square root of N (with N being the number of random votes). That is, although the expected proportion is 50%, the expected deviation from that proportion is significantly non-zero. If I flip a coin 1,000,000 times, I can't tell you whether there will be more heads than tails, but I can tell you with a fairly high degree of certainty that the number of heads will not be between (for example) 499,900 and 500,100. Specifically, the variance would be expected to be n*p*(1-p) or 250,000, meaning the standard deviation would be expected to be 500, so there's only about a 16% chance of the actual number of coin flips being between 499,900 and 500,100 (if I've done my math correctly).

  • Re:Has no affect (Score:3, Informative)

    by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:12PM (#16758687)

    If you flip a coin 50 million times, you can be pretty sure the result falls within 24.9-25.1M range.

    A spread of 200,000 votes is way more than enough to have tipped many elections in US history.
  • by wass (72082) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:44PM (#16759317)
    I think it's also very important to consider the history of the vote. Wars have been fought, people have been killed, even recently in our country's history, to ensure that everybody would have the right to vote. Eg, huge efforts were exerted, in the face of adversity, when women and blacks demanded they have the right to vote. And that means the same rights as everybody else, without the discriminatory grandfathering clauses that were originally allowed in the Jim Crow laws, etc.


    So if you're too lazy to vote, or to research at least some of the candidates positions, you're really shitting all over the efforts and lives lost of people that DID fight for the right to make sure that you have the right to vote.


    Anyway, IMHO if you don't vote you really don't have any leg to stand on to complain about any governmental laws. If Congress decides to attack Iraq or invade North Korea, and you get drafted, DON'T COMPLAIN if you didn't vote. If Congress decides to massively raise your taxes, DON'T COMPLAIN if you didn't vote. If Congress passes laws allowing eavesdropping on all your emails and web browses, DON'T COMPLAIN if you didn't vote. Etc, etc.


    Nobody knows all the issues of the candidates themselves, their opponents have teams of staffers who can dig through mounds of legislation to find some obscure clause in some prior vote to say "Candidate X voted AGAINST clean forests" or something like that.


    In a nutshell, GET OUT AND VOTE!, regardless of whether you consider yourself informed or not. Democracy (yada yada, representative republic yada yada) is the people's voice, and some percentage of uninformed people would still be representative of the populace.


    But if you consider yourself uninformed, ask yourself if you like how things are going in the country. Consider Iraq, Social Security, Geek Issues that are brought up on Slashdot, etc. If you like how things are going, then vote for the same party in power. If you want change, vote for someone else.


    One final comment - Voting breeds more informed voters. Meaning that once you start to vote you'll start paying more attention to issues that matter. Hell, you might even start writing to your Congressman about issues you care about (they really listen to their constituency, especially when they're up for re-election). It's kind of like if you're in the market for a pickup truck, you start to notice all the kinds of pickup trucks around your neighborhood that you never would have seen before.

  • Re:Has no affect (Score:3, Informative)

    by pclminion (145572) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @06:46PM (#16759377)

    Mod that up to +5. If enough people just "vote randomly" then the effect will, by the law of large numbers and/or the asymptotic equipartition property and/or (insert impressive mathematical/statistical result here), contribute uniformly to either side, thus cancelling out as the parent says. This also moves the vote closer to 50/50, but doesn't affect the victory margin.

    I don't understand this "50/50" thing you mention. On the Oregon ballot, for instance, there are three candidates for Governor. Wouldn't random voting result in something closer to a triple split? Or are you saying that people who vote randomly never vote for third parties?

  • by letxa2000 (215841) on Tuesday November 07, 2006 @08:24PM (#16760893)
    Electoral college? Uhm... not this year.
  • Heinlein's Solution (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 08, 2006 @07:41AM (#16765545)
    Robert Heinlein offered a solution to exactly this dilemma in "The Notebooks of Lazarus Long":

    "If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for...but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires."
  • by Atheose (932144) on Friday November 10, 2006 @04:29PM (#16798164)
    I take it you haven't heard Nancy Pelosi talk about the Patriot act, or any of the other things you don't think will change? http://www.house.gov/pelosi/press/releases/Dec05/p atriot.html [house.gov] Go ahead and tell everyone that still nothing is going to change, we all know you're just dying to say that some more.

    Maybe you should, you know, take a break from spouting off random anarchist rabble. Wipe the spittle from your chin, maybe take a shower, and get back to us when you've grown up a bit.

Competence, like truth, beauty, and contact lenses, is in the eye of the beholder. -- Dr. Laurence J. Peter

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