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A Vote for Jo Is at Most Half a Vote for Trump

I’m embarrassed to even say this out loud, but here it is: A vote for Jo is not a vote for Trump.

I get that this is dumb and pedantic, but here it is:
If you vote for Biden, he’s up one point. If you vote for Trump, Biden’s down one point. So your vote creates a 2 point differential. If you abstain or vote third party, neither Trump nor Biden gets a point. So even if voting for Biden is the default behavior, voting third party is only half as bad as voting for Trump.

Yes, I understands that this is missing the point. I understand that we’re supposed to resist in every capacity such that actions which don’t actively hurt Trump are equivalent to helping him.
I am actually morally sympathetic to that view. I don’t see a distinction between doing good and preventing harm. But even then, let’s not lie. Voting third party is (at most) half as bad as voting for Trump.


Now that I’ve baited you in with non-conformist politics, here’s the punchline:

I voted for Joe Biden, and you should too.

In an earlier post, I quoted the Andrew Gelman / Nate Silver analysis that the average voter has a 1 in 60 million chance of deciding the election. It ranges from 1 in 10 million if you live in a swing state, up to around 1 in 100 billion if your state is hyper partisan.

But that analysis is based on the landslide 2008 election. Obama ended up winning by 9.5 million popular votes and 365 electoral votes to McCain’s 173. In the current election, Predictit has Biden winning 290 to 248, a much smaller margin.

In the original model, Gelman et al. write: “for voters in states such as New York, California, and Texas, where the probability of a decisive vote is closer to 1 in a billion, any reasons for voting must go beyond any instrumental rationality.”

But that just isn’t obvious to me at all. There are all kinds of nightmare scenarios where even very low probabilities multiply out to super high utility. What are the odds of one candidate causing a nuclear fallout or second civil war?

I am not an alarmist, but if you put a gun to my head I would put the odds of civil war at around 1.5%. Another analysis has nuclear war at 1.1% annual, so 4.3% over 4 years, assuming independence.

I don’t know what the actual cost of nuclear or civil war is, but it’s worth making up some numbers anyway. Let’s say it’s the US GDP for a generation. That’s 20 trillion dollars, over 30 years with a 2% growth rate, so 800 trillion. (Analysis by same author estimates 5.5B deaths from nuclear winter induced famine.)

That gives us:
$800 trillion / 1 in a billion chance of influencing the outcome * (0.043 chance of nuclear war + .015 chance of civil war) = $46,400.

But of course, it’s not as if one candidate totally obviates these risks. How much better will Biden be at preventing catastrophe? Hardcore democrats might say 50%, or 90%, but let’s say 10%.

Even then, the resulting impact of your vote is estimated at $4,640 which is not bad for 30 minutes of paperwork. And then add on all the non-speculative short term harm, and incorporate the fact that this election is likely to be much closer than 2008.

I don’t know what that all comes out to, but the burden is on you to figure it out. And if you think it’s going to take more than 30 minutes to do the math, you should probably just use that time to vote instead.