Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why I won't vote

During debates and campaign speeches, political candidates often dumb down the content to the point where their remarks are almost insubstantial. Why is that, you ask? It certainly seems to me that many Americans can not or will not devote the requisite time to really get to know the candidates or the specifics of the political issues being debated.

When a voter doesn't have a well informed opinion, silly effects like ballot name order can sway the vote one way or another. These effects don't contribute to informing the voter which candidate is better.

There are probably many subtle effects (some harder to characterize than others) which can influence uninformed voters one way or another. These effects not only bias the election away from what the true results would've been given only relevant information, but they also introduce additional randomness since these effects are difficult to predict. I just saw a news show this morning declare that perhaps up to 15% of voters are still undecided the day they are supposed to vote.

One approach would be to identify and eliminate these effects. It actually might be interesting to see whether machine learning techniques can dig up anything useful in this domain. But another, and in my view more appealing, solution would be to encourage voters to educate themselves before voting... or just don't vote at all.

Someone once admonished me saying that it's my civic duty to vote -- almost a moral imperative. Last time I checked, it was my right to vote or abstain from voting. I think that uninformed voters introduce unnecessary randomness into the election process. By randomness, I don't mean actual non-determinism, but simply that uninformed voters interact more strongly with the aforementioned biasing effects, and that those effects are hard to predict. If there were no such "randomness", then the superior candidate would win every time... well, that's an exaggeration, but you get the idea.

I certainly don't count myself amongst those who are informed enough to vote responsibly, and I doubt I'll care enough to educate myself in this regard. I certainly do cheer for the millions of Americans who do take the time to educate themselves. But the world has gone on just fine without my political intervention. I have more efficient ways to contribute to the well-being of society.

1 comment:

The Wrong Box said...

From Stanford's GSB: