Monday, 15 October 2012

Election Cycles: Voting is about self interest

In the midst of the US election cycle combined with the early shots fired in what is looking like being a very bitter and contentious Australian election cycle in 2014 I thought I would write a post on elections, voting and self interest. 

Politics is something I find particularly interesting, however being neither particularly left-wing (due to my blue collar upbringing) nor right wing (due to my current job and position) I find myself often torn between the various political parties.  This post will not be about who I think should run different countries but rather is a collection of thoughts about why people vote the way they do and perhaps how you should think about voting.

Voting is all about self interest

I have this core belief that voting is purely about self interest.  People vote for whomever they think will give them the best possible outcome.  It is unsurprising therefore that lower income earners tend to vote for the left leaning parties and higher income earners tend to vote for the right leaning parties.

There are of course exceptions to this - a commonly used term for a high income person voting left is a 'champagne sipping leftie' being a person who votes left but would vote right if they were voting in what would be perceived to be their traditional roles.  These people are not, however, exceptions to the rule - I think they are also voting in their self interest - you just have to define self interest a little bit broader

Self interest is more than just economic self interest

If you define self interest in a purely economic sense then you are going to have outliers like the one I described above.  Self interest however, is broader than this.  I believe there is 'utility' associated with doing what one perceives as social good.  This is why we give to charity - because it makes us feel good.

A quote that sums this up best in a political sense was when Gracchus,  Roman Senator in the movie Gladiator says
I do not pretend to be a man of the people...but I do try and be a man for the people
I think that altruism hides self interest though.  If the
'feel good' feeling that we get from helping others or making decisions that are not in our self interest outweighs the economic benefit that we could get from voting what is in our interests then it makes perfect sense for us to vote in a way that would ordinarily seem incongruous.

Note that this applies in the other direction as well.  Often people you would ordinarily expect to vote left actually end up voting right.  These people can best be described as 'aspirational voters'.  People who aspire to be within a certain class of individuals or economic standard and so are voting to protect that class so that they are protected once they achieve this.  While this emotionally makes sense it actually makes very little sense from a political perspective - as you are allowed to change who you vote for every few years it may make more sense to vote for the left leaning party now and the right leaning party later.

For people who vote for parties like the Greens (I'm not sure what the American equivalent is) the utility that they get from voting for a party that looks after the environment and pursues social good far outweighs the fact that they have no economic policies.

When disillusionment sets in - economic well being is the best fall back

Every single election cycle I go through, I end up getting sick of the whole process and how cynical it all is and how much they become above vote grabbing at the expense of principals.  This frustration is never really targeted at one particular party - I like to share my frustration around.

Politicians often start slinging mud and making politics of those most in need of help - the poor, the helpless, the refugees - in an attempt to appeal to our prejudices.  Almost everyone I know gets sick of this eventually and then does not know who to vote for.

If and when you reach this stage the trusty fall back is economic self interest.  The utility of voting for certain ideals is lost in the grubbiness of politics and all that is left is you and your self interest.  No one else is going to vote to make you better off so you may as well do it for yourself.

How do you think about voting - I don't necessarily mean who do you want to vote for - I mean rather - how do you make that decision?

You May Also Be Interested In
The Australian Energy Regulator's Dilemma with Respect to SP Ausnet
What is QE3 and why did the share market react so strongly?
Retail price differences across countries...economically sound but very annoying

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