Robin Hanson often writes that politics is about identity, not policy.
Why do people vote?
To affiliate with others like them. People want to be part of a tribe. Preferably one that has high status.
People do not vote because they’ve reasoned through the thick waters of policy and have found a politician that aligns with their policy vision.
Often when I read Robin – on this issue as well as others – I nod my head and say: “Yes, that’s true for the masses but not for me.”
This is most often a foolish sentiment.
For the past decade, I’ve almost always voted in federal elections, especially in presidential elections. For most of my adult life I have lived in Louisiana (a deeply red state) and voted for Democratic candidates in presidential races. In short, I knew at the outset that my vote was worthless (in terms of affecting the outcome) but I voted anyway. Why? I wanted to feel like I was the kind of person who voted for the “right person.”
I was seeking an emotion, not a political outcome.
Yet, when it came to local elections, I voted less often. During a recent election cycle, I didn’t even vote in the school board race, despite the fact that I was working (many hours a week) in education.
So, in elections where statistically I had the most chance in affecting the outcome – and where I had the most knowledge on the policy issues at hand – I voted less frequently than I did for federal elections, elections where my vote had no chance of having an impact, and where I had little expertise in the major policy issues of the office.
What do I take away from this?
My ability to rationalize my own behavior is immense; it is incredibly difficult to consistently align my actions around a professed set of beliefs; my objectiveness is constantly under attack from my desire to belong.
You are probably no different.