Tag Archives: politics

Would a protest influence you?

Help, a politician I don’t like is in power! I should do something about it. But what? I know! I will join a protest – this is something. Now I can feel good about myself for having done something. And post on social media how I opposed evil so effectively. I am a socially conscious, altrustic person.

On a more serious note, one way to evaluate whether a given protest could change the situation is to put yourself in the position of the target audience. If your favourite politician was in power, would this protest change your support for said politician? If you were the politician in power, would you change your policy when many opponents use this protest against it?

Even if the answer is no, a protest may still have some effect, because it may change the preferences of the swing voters. The „no” may come from deeply ideological people, whereas more open-minded folks may conform to the herd. If they see many people opposed to something, they may start to oppose it too.

On the other hand, a protest may have the opposite effect to the one intended. It may harden ideological positions and increase polarisation. If the majority is weakly in favour of a policy, then protests against it may strengthen the support of the majority for it, leading to greater turnout and more yes-votes.

From an economic viewpoint, marching on the street with signs, chanting slogans or commenting on social media has no direct impact on politicians or most voters. The exception is those who are stuck in a traffic jam when a protest closes a street. Rational agents should not pay attention to protests which do not affect them (such activism is „cheap talk” in economic jargon, or at best „money burning”).

Real people may be swayed by the opinion of a large crowd. However, a form of protest that has an objective impact on people’s lives is likely to influence people more, because it affects them via both the opinion of the crowd and the direct impact. Both the belief shift and the hardening of the opposition are probably greater.

There are many illegal means of directly affecting the population, but also some legal forms of protest with objective impact. Economic protest is boycotting certain countries, firms or goods, refusing to work for the regime, and moving elsewhere („voting with one’s feet”), and is usually legal. The objective impact is that if enough intelligent and hardworking people shift their spending and taxpaying elsewhere, then the regime will be in fiscal trouble. If this does not change the policy of the leadership, then at least the lack of money will make the program harder to carry out.

There is a larger personal cost for economic protest than for cheap talk. One has to give up certain goods, or pay more, or experience the hassle of moving residence. This is why most people who threaten to boycott a firm or leave a country do not end up doing so. The threats are just another form of cheap talk, which can be posted on social media to impress other cheap talkers.

Which ideology is more likely to be wrong?

Exercise in Bayes’ rule: is an ideology more likely to be wrong if it appeals relatively more to poor people than the rich?

More manipulable folks are more likely to lose their money, so less likely to be rich. Stupid people have a lower probability of making money. By Bayes, the rich are on average less manipulable and more intelligent than the poor.

Less manipulable people are less likely to find an ideology built on fallacies appealing. By Bayes, an ideology relatively more appealing to the stupid and credulous is more likely to be wrong. Due to such people being poor with a higher probability, an ideology embraced more by the poor than the rich is more likely to be fallacious.

Another exercise: is an ideology more likely to be wrong if academics like it relatively more than non-academics?

Smarter people are more likely to become academics, so by Bayes’ rule, academics are more likely to be smart. Intelligent people have a relatively higher probability of liking a correct ideology, so by Bayes, an ideology appealing to the intelligent is more likely to be correct. An ideology liked by academics is correct with a higher probability.

On Trump and strategic voting

Edit 9 Nov 2016: I was wrong. To avoid publication bias, I will leave this post up. It will teach people not to trust my political judgement.

Commenting on Trump is fashionable lately, so let me jump on the bandwagon. Probably these points have all been made before.
It seems the people most against Trump are the Democrat supporters, which suggests they are ignoring strategic voting. A famous voting example is that if A is preferred to B by the majority, B to C and C to A by different majorities (1/3 of people prefer A to B to C, 1/3 prefer B to C to A and 1/3 C to A to B), then with naive voters the order of votes matters. If first the A vs B vote is held and the winner goes against C, then A wins against B, after which C wins against A. But if B and C are voted first, then B wins, after which it loses to A.
One possibility is that Trump is preferred to other Republican candidates, who in turn are preferred to Democrats, who are preferred to Trump. In this case the Democrats should strategically support Trump against other Republicans and be happy that the primary vote between Republicans happens before the general election, not after. A conspiracy theorist might even suspect collusion between Trump and the Democrats or at least secret Democrat support for Trump to split the Republicans, like in the plot of All the King’s Men.
What if the polls show swing voters to favour Trump over the Democrats? Who people claim to support in elections is not necessarily who they actually support (the Bradley effect). Voters may claim to support Trump as a joke, or actually favour him now, but reconsider closer to elections. Putting Trump in power is like a dangerous adventure – there is a thrill at the possibility and many (claim to) want to do it when it is in the distant future. When the opportunity actually arrives, it may look too scary and people may get cold feet.
In the end, if Trump actually becomes President, he has antagonized many Republicans. There is a good chance of a bypartisan effort to block all his initiatives. The crazy and illegal things Trump has promised to do are just election promises – politicians break those all the time. Even reasonable promises are broken – radical ones are even more likely to be ignored. If Trump tries to do the unconstitutional lunacies, both parties have an incentive to impeach him. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, so taking down Trump may be just the thing to make Republicans and Democrats strange bedfellows and narrow the political polarization in the US.