With the election coming up soon, Americans are trying to decide which Presidential ticket to vote for. While many people vote based on how they feel about the candidates, a few people do at least attempt to provide a rational assessment before they cast their ballot. This leads to the question of who to vote for.
One way to answer that question is to take the approach espoused by a conservative friend of mine. When asked about voting, he typically says something like “why should I vote for someone who isn’t going to do what is in my best interest?” While we disagree on many things, we do agree on this point. It would, from a rational standpoint, seem to make little sense to vote against your own self interest. No one, as Socrates argued, wants to be harmed and voting this way could lead to harm. So, the rational thing to do would seem to vote for the candidate you believe will act in accord with your self-interest.
While this seems simple enough, there is the obvious problem of determining what is, in fact, in your self-interest.
The most obvious answer is that it is what you think you want and need. Of course, what a person wants and thinks he needs could actually be contrary to his self-interest. After all, self-interest is intuitive supposed to be what is good for the person. For example, many people though they wanted George Bush to be President. Over the last eight years, he has shown most of them that this was probably not in their self-interest.
Another obvious answer is that what is in your self-interest is what benefits you. That seems reasonable enough but does have some problems.
One problem is that people can mistaken about what is beneficial to them. For example, a feminist might vote for Palin because she thinks that would be good for women. However, if Palin managed to get her conservative views made into law, then the feminist might learn that she was quite mistaken. To avoid this, a person needs to be careful in determining what would really be beneficial and which candidate is most likely to bring about such benefits.
On a more philosophical level, a person could be fundamentally mistaken about what is truly beneficial. Socrates discusses the matter at great length and it is a central focus of Plato’s ethical theory. People often regard their selfish wants as being what is truly beneficial and good for them. Hence, this would seem to indicate that people should vote in a selfish manner. For example, since the very rich would be financial better off under McCain, they should vote for him. However, acting in a selfish manner can be an error.
First, there is the moral worry that the selfish voting might lead to a morally wrong situation. For example, voting for a candidate who promises tax breaks for the rich would give the rich reason to vote for him. However, if this would do serious harm to everyone else, then it might be the wrong thing to do. If Socrates is right, acting in this selfish manner would not be in the person’s true self interest. That would be to do what is right.
Second, there is the practical worry that the selfish voting might turn out to be harmful to the person who thought she was voting in her own best interest. For example, many of the people who voted for Bush because they believed he would take a “hands off” approach to the American economy have probably come to realize that they have contributed to the dire financial disaster that plagues the United States and the world. As another example, someone might vote for Obama because of his promises about health care and the belief that they would be better off if he were elected. However, his plan might turn out to be a disaster that makes matters worse.
So, when voting it is wise to consider what is really in your best interest.