"It's amazing how much 'mature wisdom' resembles being too tired." --Robert Heinlein

The Church of Reality




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Insights from Lost & Found

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Statistics and the so-called "wasted vote" theory

The "wasted vote" theory holds that anybody who votes for a "third" party or independent candidate is wasting her vote because there is no chance such a candidate can win, and because she is losing her chance to affect the outcome between the two "major" party candidates.

The wasted vote theory is simply inapplicable to a group of hundreds of millions of voters, all of whom vote in secret. The laws of probability (i.e., the Binomial Distribution) do not support such a theory in this context, and there's no way to know ahead of time what all of your fellow citizens will do, no way to know ahead of time whether you'd be casting the deciding vote.

The only way a person does not "waste" any of her voting power is when she is known by all parties to be the deciding vote and she specifically bargains with each potential winner for the highest tangible benefit in return for casting the deciding vote.

Given the probabilities, my calculations show that, even if you could know this ahead of time, you'd be casting the deciding Presidential vote (out of 130,000,000 voters) about once every 120,000 years. (The odds are actually greater that you'll die on Election Day, never knowing the outcome of the election.)

Otherwise, voting is merely expressing a preference. So why not express your preference for the choice you most prefer?


After discussing the "wasted vote" theory with various LJers, I've concluded the following:

The chance that my vote will decide the Presidential election is zero, because I don't live in a "battleground" state. In fact, I don't live in a state at all, I live in the District of Columbia, which typically votes 85% for the Democrat, and less than 10% for the Republican. Even if I did live in a "battleground" state, my statistical calculations estimate that one vote will decide the US presidential election approximately once every 120,000 years. The US hasn't existed that long, and probably won't exist that long. We'll probably never have a US presidential election decided by one vote. So, why should I, or anybody else, care about my vote? Big Fuc'in Deal!

However, the chance that my personal advocacy for a particular candidate will either decide or "spoil" the election, by changing other people's votes, is unknowable. This unknowable quantity is what causes so many of us to obsess about politics, regardless of our ideologies or political party identifications. Instead of treating other potential voters as rational adults who can make up their own minds on their own, we expend lots of energy and $$$ trying to convince other people to join our cause. Instead of treating each candidate as an honorable public servant, we often trash the candidates we don't support and idealize the candidates we do support.

Therefore, nearly all of the effort we spend on politics is based on the unquantifiable belief that other people's minds are subject to our influence and control.


The two-party system is just a shell. Party loyalty is not where the power lies. Making the party pursue you is where the power lies. Voting for a third party or independent candidate shows the major parties that you are politically active (available), and that you are not satisfied with their bullshit.

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