Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Game of Electoral Chicken

Evidence suggests that larger segments of the American electorate are profoundly dissatisfied with the political status quo. To start off with, 63% believe the country is headed in the wrong direction.  The approval rate for congress is only 20%, while the disapproval rate is a staggering 70%. The approval rate for Democrats is 35% and for for Republicans it's a paltry 29%.

At 47% (according to a CBS / New York Times poll) President Obama's approval rate is better, but still abysmal. And when asked about his performance on key issues like the economy and the budget deficit, his approval rating falls to 39% and 32%. Anecdotal evidence suggests that even among those who intend to vote for him, support has plummeted. Liberals who are disgusted by his continuation of GW Bush's neoconservative foreign policy and corporatist economic policies will continue to vote for him. Equally, very few conservatives have expressed enthusiasm for Mit Romney or other big government Republicans. This begs the question: if so many are so dissatisfied, why do so few change their voting patterns? Why are they so reserved about voting for alternative candidates or simply abstaining when neither candidate merits their vote? This is all the more interesting considering the convergence of the alternative right and left on several key issues. Both Ron Paul and Ralph Nader are avidly opposed to: hazardous military intervention, the war on drugs, corporate bailouts and open border policies that characterize the core of both parties.

The majority of people I have spoken with have expressed the sentiment that they are not voting for a candidate or party, they are voting against one. Disheartened liberals are voting against "crazy right wing republicans" and disenchanted conservatives are voting against a second term for the Obama Administration. A growing number of liberals, conservatives and even centrists dream of real change, but are unwilling to support alternative candidates and parties or to abstain from voting, because they fear the following scenario that resembles a Game of Chicken.

1. Relative to their (right or left wing) compatriots, fewer individuals on the other side will abandon support for the mainstream Republican or Democratic candidates.

2. This means that they will not be able to garnish sufficient support for the alternative candidate.

3. And in the end their efforts will only contribute to an electoral victory for the mainstream candidate or party that they find the most distasteful.

The concerns of those who pursue this voting strategy are quite legitimate, but this ensures the continuation of the worst elements of the status quo. There are no easy answers, but if we want real change we must stop voting for the "lesser of two evils." If this means losing a Game of Chicken, so be it, I for one will not be an accessory to policies that are deleterious to the welfare of future generations.

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