Who Should I Vote For?

October 20, 2010

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Election day is looming – and with it, the decision of whom to vote for. 

For the majority of Americans, this won’t be a difficult choice.  As devoted members of the Democratic, Republicans, or Toga party, they will simply vote for the candidate with a D, R, or T next to their name.

However, millions of unaffiliated voters will face a choice when they stare at the ballot.  Conventional wisdom suggests that voters should cast a vote for the candidate whom they have the most in common with.  But is this a time to turn conventional wisdom on its head?

There are hundreds of issues that you can take a stance on, but the vast majority are irrelevant for one of three reasons:

  • You don’t have particularly strong views on the issue
  • Nearly everyone agrees with you
  • Nearly everyone disagrees with you

By definition, an issue that you don’t care about very much shouldn’t sway your vote.  It really doesn’t matter if you vote for someone who agrees or disagrees with you – it won’t have much of an impact on your life.

If an issue has widespread support, it’s also irrelevant.  For example, I favor sustained peaceful relations with Canada (despite the fact that they have soiled the good name of bacon by releasing their own, inferior version).  Of course, so does nearly everyone else.  Regardless of whether I vote for a pro-Canada or anti-Canada candidate, I don’t see a war against Canada in the near future.

How about the flip side of this – an issue where nearly everyone disagrees with you.  Let’s say I support the deportation of all Nebraska residents to a colony on the moon (I’m fairly sure that I’m not in favor of this).    While this idea would likely get some support from people in other Big 12 states, it’s not likely to get more than token support in congress.  So even if I vote for the Nebraska-Moon party candidate, it’s not going to happen.

(Yes, these examples are both pretty contrived)

What does that leave us with?  Issues that are both:

  • Important to you
  • Competitive

I’ll quantify “competitive” as some with between about 43% of 57% support (among people who have an opinion on the issue).  This is an arbitrary range, but “feels right”.  These are issues where you can actually make a difference – if you and like-minded people elect a few people to congress who share your views, you may push support from minority to majority (or vice versa) and get new legislation enacted.

This year, two issues are front and center for me.

The first is gay marriage.  I have not friends that are openly gay, but I have become a strong proponent of allowing gay couples to get married (not just civil unions, but actual marriage).  I’ve written on this a number of times, and am not going to rehash everything I have said in the past.  Suffice it to say that it’s an issue that I feel strongly about.

The supreme court of Iowa (where I live) has deemed that a ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional.  Opponents of the rule would like to enact a constitutional amendment to trump this ruling … but state law dictates that such a proposal must pay in two separate state general assemblies, at which point it would be placed on the ballot.  The current makeup of the state legislature doesn’t have enough support to get the ball rolling – and I’ll do my part to ensure that this remains true.

On the judicial side, three of the justices (the only three up for renewal this November) who joined in the unanimous opinion are under attack by groups opposing the ruling, who are running ads asking voters to throw them out of office.  In Iowa, voters simply vote to retain a judge or not retain them.  It’s not common for this to become politicized.  The judges, of course, can’t simply have fund-raisers to run their own ads – as this would be a major conflict of interest.  A group siding with the judges has recently begun to run ads.

I’ll be voting “retain”.  If the justices are thrown out because of this decision, what sort of message is this sending to the court?  A pretty clear one – don’t make decisions that could be unpopular, even if the decision is correct.  That’s a disturbing thought.  I have no problem throwing out justices who engage is judicial misconduct – but not for simply making a controversial decision. 

The second issue is the privatization of social security.  This falls completely on the other side of the political spectrum from gay marriage – being supported only by conservatives.

I’m very puzzled by the politicization of this issue.  Groups who oppose privatization point to downturns in the stock market and suggest that turning over Social Security to Wall Street would be very risky.

Of course, nobody has ever suggested that people take the contributions that currently go to Social Security (12.4% of wages) and throw them into penny stocks.  In my particular situation, I can beat the return of Social Security by putting your money into 30 year treasuries (this is not an exaggeration – my rate of return on Social Security is projected to be slightly over 2%).  Your mileage may vary a bit, but the reality is that you don’t need to take on a lot of risk to beat the return of social security (in my case, no additional risk).

This issue is probably a bit outside my range, as I don’t know that it has 43%.  However, I do feel that the issue would have considerably more support if it were properly explained on a bigger stage.

I doubt that these are the two issues that you care most about.  However, I suspect that you have a number of issues that are important to you and also competitive  – make sure your view is represented on these issues.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Squeaky
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 11:44:38

    YES!!!! Privatize Social Security. You know that will never happen though because SS has become a slush fund for the politicians.

    I never really thought about how I go about eliminating candidates, but let me add one more to the mix Kos.

    * Electability

    In Colorado we have a candidate with an R next to his name that I like and agree with his stance on issues. The important exception is that some items have come up with him in the news that make him pretty unelectable. Support has been declining and fund raising is really low. There is a candidate that normally would have been considered a spoiler from the American Constitution Party that is more electable and he will likely receive my vote. I don’t agree with him on nearly as many positions, but he’s electable and we’re more in sycn than the D and me.

    BTW, bacon rocks! It’s my 2nd favorite food group behind beer.
    Nebraska-Moon Colony?



  2. Evan @40Tech
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 11:48:02

    A very thought provoking post, Kosmo. Unfortunately, I think that large numbers of people won’t put nearly that much thought into it. Just the opposite, actually. Most campaign ads I’ve seen try to push emotional issues, like stirring up fear or anger. They must work (and ratings for some TV lunatics show that they do), or they wouldn’t run the ads.


  3. Martin Kelly
    Oct 21, 2010 @ 07:51:44

    Kos, I have to agree with Evan. The judges are in for a rough ride, but I think that the majority of Iowa voters will still retain, and even if one is recalled, it will not be by very much of a margin, so the remaining judges should still maintain their impartiality.

    I do wish that we could have control over at least some of our SS money, but I do not see that happening. This issue fall into the 60% against catagory that you defined.

    I don’t think that your issues are going to play that big of a part in this election. I think that we are back to 1992, it’s all about the economy. I do believe that the Rs will win pretty big because people always blame the party in power (to quote Harry Reid (D-NV) “This country will not stand for one party rule”). No matter how hard the Ds scream that it is all Bush’s fault, that was two years ago and was pretty much the same congress.

    It looks like I am on the opposite side of both of your most significant issues. I personally would vote for the Nebraska-Moon initiative, but I a runble with the Canadians may be a good thing. They are a bunch of hostile foriegners whose only good traits are hockey and that bacon.


  4. Martin Kelly
    Oct 21, 2010 @ 07:53:48

    For our Canadian readers, I was just kidding. I really like Canada, Canadians, and Canadian Bacon.


  5. kosmo
    Oct 21, 2010 @ 08:06:48

    I think the anti-judge group has an uphill battle. They don’t just need to have more people actively vote “not retain” vs. actively vote “retain” – they are also up against a massive amount of people who just blindly retain judges out a force of decades of habit.

    I’ve been surprised before, though.


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