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Single Issue Voting: A Thought Experiment on the 2012 Election

By Rob Hager  Posted by George Flower (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Re-enfranchisement of virtually the whole electorate by outlawing private-interest money is the common thread uniting all proponents of progressive change. It is therefore the first goal of an effective non-partisan SIV movement. Before the now unrepresented "majority party" will be able to achieve the policies it desires on any of the above range of issues, it will first need to unite and prioritize the elimination of private interest money from politics.

3. The numbers. Swinging the 2012 popular vote against the undeserving but dangerously effective incumbent over to his unimpressive and vacillating "Etch A Sketch" challenger would have required a vote swing of 2.5 million, or 1.93% of the 51.02% of votes cast for Obama. The election could have been swung by just 1.03% - about one in 50 of these Obama voters, if the 1.7% of voters who ineffectually voted third party had instead chosen SIV.

The above calculation of the fraction of voters necessary to determine Obama's fate in 2012 does not account for former Obama voters who stayed home because it was not worth their effort to go to the polls to support either of the two corrupt parties. 2012 voter turnout sagged 3.4% (2.3 million votes) from the 57% of 2008. Obama's total vote slipped 3.6 million. Romney gained about a 1-million vote bump over McCain's total, while third parties gained .3 million. That means 3.3% (2.3 million) of Obama's 2008 voters stayed home. If the nearly nine million net newly eligible voters turned out at the same rate, these figures double. Widespread Obama buyers' remorse thus might have contributed an even larger pool (over 250% larger) than the third-party voters from which to draw a 2012 SIV voting bloc for this SIV thought experiment. These remorseful voters could have handily defeated Obama all alone.

This historic desertion of a two-term president also suggests how weakly committed to Obama many troubled LOTE voters at the margin must have been who reported, prior to the election, they "can't say th[ey] will vote [for Obama] with any happiness." Many LOTE voters might have been far happier with a politically effective SIV alternative use for their vote in 2012 than they were with casting a self-defeating vote for Obama solely out of fear of the GOTE alternative. The trouble with the LOTE-propaganda technique is that it "discourages innovative thinking by needlessly reducing the possible options" to a false dichotomy. M. Shabo, Techniques of Propaganda and Persuasion (2008) 42. LOTE is an application of this variably labeled false alternative -- or false dilemma -- fallacy that, along with his "false false choices," are Obama's trademark forms of evasion about everything from drone policy to climate change. Evading embarrassing campaign promises, while selling himself as the LOTE candidate in 2012, was doubtless Obama's most successful use of his favorite logical fallacy. The key to liberation from this pernicious fallacy is SIV voting.

Experienced election canvassers are aware that the refusal to take part in elections by many of the 95 million (in 2012) eligible non-voters is due to the futility they perceive in engaging a system driven by money and deception within the limited choices available. If only several percentage of these alienated but eligible non-voters would consider making effective use of their vote as a means to abolish the corrupt system they now avoid on principle, this could easily double the hypothetical pool of potential SIV voters. Moreover, polling data showed a much closer race for much of the final month, before Obama's late spending and air-war advantage delivered a wider margin of victory. During this period when the election was more of a toss-up, a much smaller percentage of SIV voters could have credibly wielded the powerful bargaining chip of swinging the election against the incumbent for any failure to support their single issue.

Surely, an effective progressive organizing effort united in support of the most effective voting strategy could have mustered the needed 1 to 2% or less3  (depending on the number of swing LOTE voters) of about 220 million eligible voters from among the described pool of LOTE and 3d-party voters and the "boycott," "pursue other causes" and alienated-by-corruption non-voters, including especially the remorseful former 2008 Obama voters who did not care enough whether he was reelected to return to the polls on November 6, 2012. This pool of potential supporters of an effective voting alternative could amount to 10% of voters, which is still only a fraction of the 39% of likely voters who reported that the Occupy movement represented the frustrations of most Americans. Some of these OWS sympathizers might have responded to a clearly explained SIV voting strateg y, if one had been adopted and advocated by OWS. 

Only 5% of these OWS sympathizers would have been sufficient to defeat Obama with a united SIV strategy. Frances Fox Piven noted prior to the election that Obama was "vulnerable to an escalating Occupy movement" and she "hope[d] the movement forces Obama to pay for its support."  OWS for a brief moment held a megaphone that could have been used as Piven suggested to unite a portion of its sympathizers behind an effective electoral strategy. Unity is the essential requirement for an SIV strategy. OWS had a separate reason to defeat the administration that served and protected Wall Street while maintaining an adversarial posture with OWS tather than uphold their rights as protesters suffered violent unconstitutional attacks on their encampments by local police. 

Although OWS remained painstakingly nonpartisan, it was unable to develop a nonpartisan electoral strategy to effectively channel its potentially decisive political influence. The otherwise remarkable OWS effort was not wasted if it demonstrated to its supporters the long-term futility of political tactics that lack a self-directed, long-term electoral-strategy component.

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If SIV money-outta-politics voters had accomplished the feat of defeating Obama in the manner described in this thought experiment, then the outcome of the election would have been determined by the democratic principle that all incumbents in a systemically corrupt system who do not target reform of that system as their first and only priority should lose their job. Instead the election was determined by the usual mix of money, paid propaganda, outdated partisan loyalties, LOTE voting, candidate deception, voter alienation, and failure by the opposition to this corrupt system to organize an effective nonpartisan SIV voting bloc.

The result of this failure is even more obvious when the SIV strategy is applied to Congress. In the 2012 election cycle, for the Senate incumbents -- who on average out-raised their two-party challengers by $7.02 million to $1.69 million for a 316% advantage -- 95.2% of those who ran won re-election; for the incumbent representatives -- who on average out-raised their two-party challengers by $1,732,000 to $319,000 for an even greater 443% advantage -- 91.2% who ran for office won re-election.

The more private-interest money politicians raise, the more they need to sell out the public's interests to their private-interest funders in exchange. The above data shows that incumbents raise several times more money that their leading opponent. Incumbents raise more money mainly because they are better-placed to sell out the public's interest. More than nine times out of ten, partisan voting tends to return these incumbents. Would the majority not be better-served by an SIV voting strategy that systematically ejected from public office (unless they prioritized changing the corrupt system that empowers them) those candidates who most excel at selling out the public's interest?

Such an effective SIV strategy would have attracted political power to itself by determining the outcome of the popular vote in the six-billion-dollar 2012 election. Six billion is approximately the rent paid in exchange for the policies that will be handed out to political investors, policies that disadvantage the overwhelming majority who do not pay by many times that amount. This is also the approximate advertising budget for propagating the LOTE fallacy. 

Why not organize the votes of those among the disenfranchised majority who already know what policy they want and can reject the LOTE fallacy?  Those votes can then be exchanged for the single process change -- comprehensive legislation to get money out of politics -- that will enable those majorities to quickly achieve the diverse policy changes along a broad spectrum of issues that the corrupt system now denies them.

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4. The lost benefits. Partisan anger at a strategy that would guarantee the victory of a sworn opponent should be suspended for the brief time it takes to consider the benefits such a strategy delivers, compared to what partisan LOTE voting has delivered over the decades since legalized corruption came to dominate US politics.

For people who believed Obama when he misquoted Roosevelt in defying progressives to "Go Out And Make Me Do It," it must be said that the only way to have made Obama act like a progressive was to have credibly threatened to vote for his opponent if he did not.

Without spending any appreciable money at all, progressives and others who, as in this experiment, organized themselves in 2012 as SIV voters to deny Obama a second term -- if he would not deliver satisfactorily on their issue of political corruption -- would now have at least a number of accomplishments worth considering, even had Obama -- rather than commit to taking reasonable steps necessary to restore democracy against the interests of his Wall Street paymasters -- recklessly tried calling the SIV bluff and forced SIV-pledged voters to deliver on their threat to defeat him.

First, although an unreliable center-right to far-right neoliberal opportunist named Romney (R) rather than Obama (D) would have celebrated his inauguration, right-wing supporters of Romney could not feel much sense of triumph from that if it were clear that organized  progressive voters provided the margin of victory that put their tweedle-dum candidate in office as a byproduct of voting in the most effective manner against the tweedle-dee incumbent.

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