Your vote counts, it just doesn't matter

Elections are a winner-take-all system. If 55% of the country voted for candidate A and 45% of the country voted for candidate B, we get 100% candidate A. This is different from a market where if I spend $1 on ice cream, I get $1 of ice cream. Or a charity where if I give $1 to Malaria Consortium, they receive $1.

This isn't hard to figure out which is why I'm puzzled when people repeat the line, "every vote counts," as if that's an argument for voting. Sure they literally counted your vote, but that doesn't mean your vote mattered.

Rewind to November 8th 2016; a day when I stayed in my bubble and ignored my society (as one does). With the benefit of hindsight, we know what the world would look like today had I voted. 

What if I had voted for Hillary Clinton? Trump would have won. 

What if I had voted for Trump? Trump would have won. 

What if I had voted for a third-party? Trump would have won. 

It looks like I made the right decision by saving myself the time and energy of voting.

This outcome is highly predictable. Very few elections are decided by a single vote. So unless you like voting, possibly because it expresses who you are and saves you from society's contempt, it's best to save yourself the trouble.

Let's play the multiverse game. You get in a machine that takes you to one of the other universes where almost everything is the same, but one thing is different. You set the coordinates from "stay at home on election day" and press activate. The machine takes you to the other universe and you get out. What does this new universe look like?

You know the answer.

But wait, what if everybody thought that way? Nonsense! We make decisions based on reasonable expectations of what other people will do. We don't make decisions based on what if everybody made that exact same decision. In fact, that's not only terrible decision theory, but it's also an absolutely insane way to live (see: what if nobody voted).

Consider one more thought experiment. You're with a group of 10 friends deciding which movie to watch. You know for a fact that 8 of your friends are going to vote for that stupid Hugh Grant romantic comedy. Since it's clear your vote doesn't matter you choose not to vote. What kind of crazy person insists that you must vote because every vote counts?!!


This post is about voting; one of society's most sacred rituals. Other examples like this include:

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