Monday, March 31, 2008

The Myth of the Rational Voter

I'm turning in a book to the library after I finish giving platelets today. I can't honestly say I read the book. The best I could say is that I skimmed it. I enjoyed what I read but much of the statistics and accounting "proofs" used to make their points were a bit over my head. The few that I did force myself through I eventually understood but after several chapters they just got a little bit dry. However, I do agree with the main premise of the book.
The book is called The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies. All too often is seems that voting is compared to economics and economic models are used to explain why people vote the way they do. The assertion is that people will "buy" the best candidate or policy for them just like they "buy" any other product. This book shows that more often than not that model is seriously flawed. Voting is not the same as buying a product and many people will vote for things that they never would have if they were actually paying for it. How often do people vote for a spending program without considering where the funds would come from? You wouldn't be able to do that on a personal level yet it's possible on a large scale.
The author also shows that the pooling of resources that happens when we cast or vote somewhat distances us from the outcome. We begin to feel like our vote is not too crucial and then begin not to take it seriously.
He also goes into the fact that many people vote for solely emotional reasons and throw logic to the wind. Voters will support their party's candidate whether or not they support their opinions or not. I've seen this happen several times. I can't for the life of me figure out how our current Commander in Chief was elected as a Republican. The domestic programs that he campaigned with in 2000 were astronomical and once in office he blew them completely out of the water after 9-11. What about fiscal responsibility?
I can't say I'd recommend this book to someone just looking for a little bit of light reading. However, I did find the conclusions very enlightening. I would like to believe that his conclusions are wrong. I still have faith in our republic, but the evidence in front of me just doesn't support the idea that voters behave rationally.

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