Multiple Voting in Elections, Part 2

I recently ran a poll here to gauge support for the idea of giving voters with bachelor’s and/or doctoral degrees extra votes in elections. I ran the same poll on a non-political site to get an idea of support from the general public. Surprisingly, Pileus readers opposed the reform overwhelmingly, 82-18%, while respondents on the other site were slightly more supportive, with opposition running at 74-26% (31 respondents). In both polls I simply asked the question and did not offer any reasons for either side of the issue. The sample sizes are too small to draw terribly confident conclusions about the general public’s support for this proposal, but support does seem surprisingly high given that no Western democracy since the 1940s has given multiple votes to college graduates (Belgium and the United Kingdom formerly did so).

The impetus for the poll came from a discussion I had with Bryan Caplan, author of The Myth of the Rational Voter. Caplan finds that voters have strikingly different views from economists on many economic issues. The general public tends to suffer from anti-market, anti-foreign, and pessimistic biases. However, the more educated you are, the more likely you are to think like an economist (the smaller your biases on economic issues). In subsequent research, Caplan says that the effect is really one of IQ: smarter people are more likely to think like economists, and smarter people are also likely to get more education. Nevertheless, the logic implies that giving people with more education more votes will lead to better politicians and better economic policies. I argued that giving additional votes to more educated voters might actually be a popular change in the long run, if it were actually proposed and defended at length. Bryan thought that it would be overwhelmingly unpopular and essentially not worth proposing.

The precise implications of these poll results are up for debate, but it seems to me that support for some reform of this kind actually does have some base of support in the public, even when no logical or evidentiary support for the change is offered.

11 thoughts on “Multiple Voting in Elections, Part 2

  1. Wouldn’t a more compelling expansion of the franchise be to extend it to children, or at least to those beyond a certain age. There are millions of children whose “civic competence” is as great or greater than a large number of registered adult voters, yet they have no voice, not even through their parent’s or guardians.

    As a result we have public policies that transfer billions of dollars of current and future resources form children to the elderly. How different would American democracy look if the interests of children were represented in the political process?

    1. I’m not sure about that idea. In my experience, most teenagers simply adopt the political views of their parents. It’s only after about age 18 that they begin to think for themselves.

      1. And when did “thinking for oneself” become a norm in American voting behavior? A whole lot of middle-aged Americans are Republicans or Democrats primarily because their parents were. And a lot of other people vote based primarily on what other people tell them–their union, their employer, the church, their precinct captain, ward boss, etc.

        Kaplan’s right in that a lot of voting behavior isn’t based on a reasoned analysis. Given that, we ought not deny any American the franchise. I would give any child over age 12 the franchise and allow a parent or guardian to vote for anyone under age 12 (that would be tricky to implement in cases where parental opinions are split, but perhaps if the young child has two parents, they each get 1/2 vote).

        Everyone knows that voters as a group are pretty stupid. Yet when the issue of children come up, people pull out the “they can’t think for themselves” argument, which is hardly a standard that can be applied well to adults.

      2. I might be willing to let dogs vote if I thought it would lead to consistently better policies. But I just don’t see 12-year-olds taking a more reasoned position on Medicare and Social Security reform than the average American voter. And they might take less reasoned positions on a variety of other issues, such as Free Pizza for All and Bong Hits 4 Jesus. 😉

  2. What does a “rational voter” look like? Dani Rodrick, Alan Blinder, Robert Reich and Paul Krugman?

    The concept seems useless. What does a rational auto purchaser, a rational sports fan, a rational parent (Amy Chu?) look like? Every single person on the planet uses proxies in place of complete knowledge and I disagree with Caplan’s declaration that his collection of economic givens is a useful proxy when checking a box on a ballot; other concerns are far more important (e.g., a personal assessment of whether the candidate is a phony).

    1. I can’t do justice to Caplan’s full argument here, but I would just echo his statement that he would rather be governed by the median economist than by the median American voter. When voters have consistently erroneous views about economics, and politicians respond to those views, we all suffer. What’s the solution? Not too sure, but some kind of reform that would tilt the median voter in a pro-market direction seems desirable. (I’ve advocated reducing the voting power of government employees and contractors in these “pages” before.)

      1. Economists “have consistently erroneous views about economics”, too, just ask them. The Technocratic Expert Elite form of government is a bad idea on so, so many levels.

      2. All economists are wrong about something sometime in their field, of course. But are they consistently erroneous, or are the errors random, suggesting ignorance rather than bias?

    2. I don’t know if, or how to figure whether, economists are consistently erroneous or err randomly. Science (physics, astronomy, biology, medicine) constantly corrects itself in unpredictable ways and has been wrong more than right, so would you say they err randomly or consistently?

      Can you discern the economist consensus in the 30s, 40s, and other decades? It seems the D.C./Harvard axis of economists were consistently wrong (e.g., socialism as legitimate system, response to Depression, prediction of demobilization, the sustainability of communism). The current crop is not immune from what ailed the prior crop (not that I can diagnose it) and I’m reluctant to hand over the reins to reign.

      Let me ask this, in your preferred world: how is economist consensus determined? What was it in 2008, or is it 2011 (or 2001 and 2006)? How would the populace be after implementation?

      (I apologize for being obstreperous, and thank you for your patient response; Pyrrhoism is an anti-social affliction. If you think Caplan’s book answers these questions, I’ll read it before taking up your bytes)

      1. Caplan does try to control for all the obvious sources of bias in economists’ thinking: ideology, income, race, gender, job security, and so on. He still finds substantial differences between what economists believe about the economy and what the general public believes. He believes it is more reasonable to conclude that economists in virtue of their expert knowledge are closer to the truth of the matter than the general public is, but he concedes that it is never possible to disprove the allegation that economists are biased simply in virtue of being economists.

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