this year as usual i am threatening to vote libertarian. and this year i actually will vote libertarian, as i did in all presidential elections from 1980 through 2000. i'm not too down with targeted assassinations (i make an exception for assassinating - or as i prefer to think of it, engaging in meaningful, constructive dialogue with - mass-murdering tyrants), ever-increasing powers of surveillance, and so on. one of the big reasons i voted for obama is that he's black, but he's been growing paler in my eyes for some time. now this year, as usual, various democrats are telling me either that i would be wasting my vote, or that in fact a vote for gary johnson is a vote for romney. however, that is false, and i refuted it in a column in 2004 (for creators/latimes). so i thought i'd hit you with it again:
Electoral Chaos Theory
By Crispin Sartwell
"A vote for Nader is a vote for Bush."
Children, as you trudge through this vale of pain known as human life, the major parties will proffer arguments to the effect that you should vote for the moral munchkins they've nominated. Unlikely as it seems, one of these might someday be convincing. This one isn't.
Calculations concerning how voting for X affects the candidacies of Y and Z lead directly to completely insane complications. But to the extent we can work out the problem at all, voting for X is never equivalent to voting for Y or Z.
First of all, let's take the clearest scenario. All your life you've voted, and you've only voted Democratic. This time you are torn perfectly in two between Kerry and Nader: you would under no circumstances consider Bush or some other candidate or not voting. Let's suppose that Nader has absolutely no chance, and your preference for Nader has no effect whatever on anything else. Under these circumstances you nevertheless vote for Nader.
Your vote for Nader took a vote away from Kerry, but it did not one add for Bush. Whatever you want to say about this scenario, it is obviously not the same as ditching Kerry and voting for Bush. As we would say in baseball, Kerry's lost half a game.
Now the notion that you've tossed half a vote to Bush depends in turn on a variety of other factors, while the idea of partial votes opens up heretofore unimagined vistas in logic, such as that in some cases not voting is voting, while in others voting is not voting, and in yet others voting once is voting many times.
The distribution of the fragments of your vote to the candidates depends upon the various alternatives you would entertain, their weights, and their own effects. So for example, if there were no chance you were going to vote for Kerry in the first place, you haven't reduced his vote total at all by voting for Nader. If there were a 25% chance you were going to vote for Kerry, and you vote for Nader, then you're only throwing that 25% of your half vote to Bush. That's .125 of a vote.
In the case we're imagining you're 50/50 between Kerry and Nader. So you're only taking 50% of your half vote from Kerry. To make this intuitive: if someone intended to vote for Kerry and accidentally pulled Nader, that is obviously the loss of a half vote to Bush, because the probability of voting for Kerry was nearly 100%. So now we're down to .25 of a vote even in the cleanest case.
For the Democrats, a vote for Nader is a "wasted" vote: it is tantamount to not voting. So we are going to have to ask, in cases where you vote, whether you're failing to vote, and in cases where you don't, who you're voting for.
If you are a potential Kerry voter, not voting is, on the basic Democratic account, voting for Bush in exactly the same way as is voting for Nader. This equivalence supposes that under no circumstances is a vote for Nader a vote for the winner. But though the chances of Nader winning are small, they exist. Perhaps they are equal to Nader's polling numbers nationally, say 2%.
A vote for Kerry reduces Ralph's slim chance of winning and to exactly that extent is a vote for Bush. To be precise it takes away that fraction of a vote that is proportional to Nader's chance to win halved: a hundredth of a vote. So it's .01 of a vote for Bush. Even in the case of pure dilemma, that reduces your vote for Bush to .24.
Obviously, the idea that the Democrats are entertaining is that votes and vote fragments are wasted if they go to a loser. Bush's chance of winning, let us say, is 49%. So you have a 51% chance of wasting your partial vote for Bush when you vote for Nader. Hence, a vote for Nader is .1176 of a vote for Bush.
The antecedent chance that you will vote for Kerry - which fixes the fraction of the vote you're giving to Bush - is reduced by the chance that you will not vote at all. Since about half of eligible people vote in US presidential elections, the average factor is about .5.
Then you're giving Bush .0588 of a vote. That's unlikely to change the outcome, even in Florida.
And if you considered voting for Bush at all, all bets are off. Indeed, pretty quickly you'll find that people who once had a little inkling for Bush and ended up voting for Nader did not vote at all, because they repaid to Kerry what they subtracted from Bush.
It might be fun to spend a few years working on this problem, and a Nobel in psychomathematics might lurk in the research, or maybe just psychosurgery for the researcher .
But let us not be hasty. We should also entertain the idea that a vote for *Kerry* is a vote for Bush.
After all, it is a vote for the war in Iraq, for the Patriot Act, for No Child Left Behind, against gay marriage, for deficit spending on a massive scale, and so on.
Perhaps "Kerry" and "Bush" are simply two names for the same thing. Then, though voting for Nader might be voting .0588 for Bush, voting for Kerry is voting for Bush entirely.
But let's be generous and postulate that Kerry only coincides with Bush 75%. Of course it still follows with mathematical precision that no matter who you vote for - and even if you don't vote at all - you're voting for Bush. Defeating Bush in this case is conceptually impossible, and Democrats by their own calculations would do well to give up. In fact, they have.
At any rate, if the Democrats are right that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush, and if the average Nader vote is .0588 of a vote for Bush, voting for Kerry is voting for Bush about 13 times.
At least we've got that straight.