I Like 90% of [Politician]’s Positions but Hate the Remaining 10%, So I Won’t Vote for [Politician]

If you disagree with 90% of a candidate, obviously you should not vote for them and this page is not for you.

But there are lots of people out there who take surveys like those on http://www.isidewith.com and align strongly with a candidate, yet feel conflicted with a minority of what that candidate has to say. I have heard numerous people voice concern that they won’t vote for Obama, Johnson, or Romney for very specific deal-breaker positions, even though they align with a majority of that candidate’s positions.

A viable candidate holding 90% of what you agree with is extremely rare. Most likely you can scan enough parties and eventually find one that agrees with you 100% — but finding a candidate within the two major parties, who has within a slim chance of being elected, and who agrees with you 90%? That is extremely rare. What’s even more rare is if you can find a candidate who you know has a track record of consistent voting. If you can find a candidate like that, even if you find that 10% abhorrent, you will benefit from voting for them.

That last part is important. Very few candidates will look like this:

- Science funding: voted “yes” to increase NASA’s budget 6 out of 6 times
– PATRIOT Act: voted “no” to renew 3 out of 3 times
– Healthcare: voted “yes” on single-payer 5 out of 5 times
– Economy: voted “no” on bailout 2 out of 2 times
– Abortions: voted “no” to legalize 3rd-trimester abortions 4 out of 4 times

On the other hand, if you agree 100% with the votes above, you wouldn’t want something like this:

- Science funding: voted “yes” to increase NASA’s budget 2 out of 6 times
– PATRIOT Act: voted “no” to renew 1 out of 3 times
– Healthcare: voted “yes” on single-payer 3 out of 5 times
– Economy: voted “no” on bailout 1 out of 2 times
– Abortions: voted “no” to legalize 3rd-trimester abortions 2 out of 4 times

A good compromise would be something like this:

- Science funding: voted “yes” to increase NASA’s budget 4 out of 6 times
– PATRIOT Act: voted “no” to renew 2 out of 3 times
– Healthcare: voted “yes” on single-payer 4 out of 5 times
– Economy: voted “no” on bailout 2 out of 2 times
– Abortions: voted “no” to legalize 3rd-trimester abortions 2 out of 4 times

This means that a politician votes consistently with the majority of that politician’s stated positions a majority of the time.

Most politicians, you can assume, will do something to this effect.

For example, one of Obama’s most objected-to positions was his position on healthcare. Realistically, however, the republican majority would not let the full extent of Obama’s vision come into reality. The president is not a dictator and does not have that kind of power. The president can, however, veto any bill that comes to the oval office. Assuming that the president uses executive power to the fullest extent, it’s easier to stop a bill than it is to enact a bill. So the president can, at the very least, use some degree of sway to get a moderate version of the desired reality passed.

Suppose for a moment that you are a person who voted Nader in 2000 and decide to vote in the 2008 election, but didn’t want to vote for Nader again due to electability concerns. Using one of the many online political quiz tools (e.g. isidewith) to do this, you could run your positions up against most of the major democratic primary candidate positions, and decide who is the closest to Nader. Before Mike Gravel’s switch to the libertarian party, a large number of his positions overlapped with Nader’s — but he had no chance of getting elected. Even if Mike Gravel won the nomination, he would lose to a republican in the general election.

Remember: even if you are a hard-line republican, in this scenario you are a hypothetical discontented Nader voter.

Voting for Gravel, even assuming he won the nomination, would lead to the election of McCain as president. So even though you had voted for the closest approximation of what you believe, you actually regressed a significant percent — say, negative 20% — from enacting all of what you believe. But if 80% of what you wanted was in line with Gravel, chances are 60% or some number close to that was in line with Obama. By voting for Obama, you at least ensured that a small number of what you believe is enacted, and a good percent of undesirable scenarios were avoided.

Unfortunately, only a small percent of what you, the hypothetical Nader voter, wanted Obama to enact was actually enacted. Say, 10%. Worse, had you gone back to look at Obama’s voting record in the senate, you should have predicted as much. Doing the math, though, tells you that this is still better than having elected McCain, where some negative percentage of what you wanted to happen would happen. A change of 2% or even 0% is better than a change of -20%, which is what you, the hypothetical Nader voter, would have gotten if you voted McCain.

This is the reality of voting: even assuming ideal conditions, the president has to be popular enough to be elected. And if you are deviant from the popular opinion of presidential election voters, by definition the politician you agree with 100% or even 80% will probably not be elected. In a presidential scenario, you would need to settle for something like 10% of the views you like being enacted.

Assume your favorite candidate has a “good enough” voting record like the hypothetical Obama scenario posed above. If your preferred candidate votes with their stated positions about 2/3 of the time, and you agree with 2/3 of what they think, and you recognize that the president is not a dictator and can’t wave a wand to enact the president’s favorite policies, you are accepting some minor amount of change that you want, but more importantly you are rejecting a certain amount of change you don’t want.

The things you don’t want to happen probably won’t happen because even a best case scenario, the president is still not a dictator. In estimating “what will actually get enacted?”, you have to be reserved in your estimation. Because of justified limits on the president’s power, no President can simply enact 100% of what they agree with. Most likely, the 10% you disagree with will also be part of the greater 60%+ the president can’t enact anyway due to reaction from democrats and republicans and lobbyists and so on. The % of disagreeable positions the president enacts is likely not a substantial change from the previous administration’s disagreeable enactments, which itself is not a dramatic change from the administration-before-that’s disagreeable enactments.

So even with a president with a hypothetically 100% consistent voting record, you will only see a small percent of what that president believes enacted. But if you like 90% of what that person has to say, that’d still be better than what we have now.

Yet in spite of these reasons, there is one objection to the 90/10 quandary I hear frequently: “what if you’re electing Hitler, and 90% of his positions are good, but 10% of his positions are, well, what makes Hitler who he is?”

In a presidential election, the farther a view comes from mainstream acceptability is the less likely that view is to be accepted. So the percentage of views likely to be enacted is not just a fraction of that candidate’s views — it’s the more moderate positions that candidate holds. Say a politician actually did support a Hitleresque position, like the repeal of interracial marriage. This would be met with such resistance that, even if the president did get elected, it would be among the first views removed from consideration. Even if a candidate who holds views wildly different from the mainstream (say, Ron Paul) were elected, the more extreme of those views have no chance of being enacted because a presidential election is by definition a move to the center. Were it a congressional race, this argument would have more merit.

Political dialogue has frequently had a problem with voters thinking top-down until the very last second, when they’re forced to make a pragmatic choice. This involves supporting all of a candidate or none of a candidate. Not only does that mentality misunderstand how policies become reality, it’s a poor voting choice.

Expecting a candidate to be 100% in line with what you agree with is bad math. There’s no way you’ll get even 1% of what you want enacted if you expect 100% of it to be enacted at once. If you truly like 90% of what you see from a candidate, you are in an extremely good position and would benefit from voting for that candidate.

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