The donkey in the room

Nice piece by Michael Kinsley about the November 7 elections in the US…

This year does seem to be different. You hear people say – though rarely as forthrightly as the Times – that they are voting for the party, not the person. Well, more accurately, they say they are voting against the party, not the person. The Republican candidate for the Senate or House may be saintlike in general, no worse than muddled on the war in Iraq, and good on stem-cell research. Meanwhile the Democrat may be a grotesque hack just inches from indictment, whose views on Iraq are equally muddled with less excuse (since loyalty to the president is not a factor). Nevertheless, many people are voting for the Democrat simply out of anger at or frustration with the Republican party.


Even under the American arrangement there is nothing ignoble about voting the party line. It is an efficient way to minimise your information costs. Voting is an irrational act: your vote does not matter unless it’s a tie. And even 2000 was not a tie. The more effort you put into learning about the candidates, the more irrational voting becomes, and the more likely you are not to bother. A candidate’s party affiliation doesn’t tell you everything you would like to know, but it tells you something. In fact it tells you a lot – enough so that it makes sense to vote for your party preference even when you know nothing else about a candidate. Or even to vote for a candidate that you actively dislike.

True, people might question your sanity if you were to declare that you were voting for the Democratic party agenda. The what? If there’s anything worse than ignoring that famous elephant in the room, it’s imagining a donkey that’s not in the room. Even so, a vote for the Democrat is a vote against the Republican. And voting “no” to a record of failure is more important to the functioning of democracy than voting “yes” to any number of promises about the future.