Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Democratic Socialism: Mob Rule by the Ignorant

Posted by M. C. on April 21, 2022

by Gary Galles 

The higher costs and lower benefits to becoming informed lead most voters to have less information about political decisions than about their market decisions, particularly crucial swing voters, who are often among the least informed in the electorate. That further raises the payoff to negative campaigning, especially the use of misleading part-truths. They are simple, but reality is complex and therefore is much harder to “sell” to voters paying limited attention.

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Why is politics so negative compared to marketing — its analog in the private sector — even though virtually every candidate echoes the desire to “just get along”? The explanation revolves around two important ways political competition differs from market competition: higher payoffs to negative attacks, and rationally ignorant “customers.”

Selling your product in the private sector requires a customer to cast an affirmative vote to buy it. Just convincing a potential customer that a rival product should not be purchased does not mean a sale for you.

This is because a sales prospect can choose from among several sellers, or he can choose to not buy at all. But those options are unavailable in an election with only two major parties, where customers are effectively forced to “buy” from one of them.

In an essentially two-party election, convincing an uncommitted voter to vote against the “other guy” by tearing the opponent’s position down is as valuable to a candidate as convincing that voter of positive reasons to vote for him; either brings him a vote closer to a majority. That is not true in the private sector, as only votes for you — purchases — help you.

Similarly, talking a voter committed to a rival to switch to your side is worth two votes, since it adds one to your vote column and subtracts one from your rival’s. But you would only benefit from the single additional purchase/vote for you in the private sector. Further, in an election, finding a way to get someone who would have voted for your rival to not vote at all is as valuable as getting one more voter to vote for you.

This is why negative campaigns that turn voters off from political participation altogether are acceptable in politics, as long as a candidate thinks he will keep more of his competitor’s voters away from the polls than he will his own. In the private sector, such an approach would not be taken, as it would reduce, rather than increase, sales.

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