Thursday, February 12, 2009

On the Futility of Tactical Voting

But first, a comment from the distant past. (For readers who joined recently and aren't familiar with my occasional "Daf Yomi" thread, the explanatory post is here). This morning's page, Bava Kamma tractate 46, contains a Talmudic discussion that is far fetched even by the standards of those early lawyers 2000 years ago. A cow has gored a bull, already a bit far fetched, and the owner of the cow probably should pay damages. However, the cow had been pregnant, yet by the time anyone arrived at the scene of the battle she had given birth, so we don't know if she attacked before or after. This could conceivably be significant, someone postulates, because if it was a pregnant cow who did the goring, and the calf had already been sold before birth, then the owner of the cow can perhaps claim that he must pay only part of the damages and the owner of the calf should pay his part since the calf participated in the goring. Or not, if the calf was already born: but we don't know because there weren't any witnesses...

Whether any of this is serious I can't say; it supplied the ten or twelve of us in the morning study group lots of giggles; the best part was when the speculation went so far as to postulate a hen attacking a rooster before laying an egg - though even the Gemara found that fanciful.

And how is all this relevant to Israel's elections, I hear you asking? Because Israeli Jews have been splitting logic like this for thousands of years, and you see it in their electoral patterns. First, in the fact that in any given election there are about 30 parties, ten to 15 of which can be expected to make it into the Knesset (apparently 12 this time). More significantly, you see it in their elaborate schemes of what's called tactical voting, which is when you vote for the wrong party in order to reach some secondary goal.

An example: let's say I wished Netanyahu to be prime minister, but was reassured by the polls that he probably had it sowed up already; I intensely dislike his ultra-orthodox partners, however. If I vote Likud, there will be a Likud-Haredi coalition whose foreign policy I will like but whose economic policies I won't like. Solution: vote Lieberman. He'll go with Netanyahu but he hates the Haredi and will protect us from them. Of course, I can't do that if I'm also pro-settlements, because Lieberman is willing to have many settlements disbanded so as to hand them over to the Palestinians along with the Israeli Arabs along the Green line, but that's what elections are about: you've got to make a decision, and you can't have everything, not even by voting tactically.

Another example: I want Livni to be prime minister but the polls indicate she won't. I assume Netanyahu won't want a coalition with all the folks on his side, because too many of them are crazies even by his standards and he'll want to be invited to the White House, so now I have to figure out who is more likely to be the center-left party he recruits, and vote for them. Kadima or Labor: which will he choose, and how can my vote effect his choice? Or perhaps it's the other way around: While I'd gladly vote for Livni, I'm afraid she might join Netanyahu so I must vote for Meretz to assure my vote doesn't support Netanyahu in any way possible?

(I remember a chap who in 1996 wanted Peres to be prime minsiter, but was afraid his majority would be so large he voted for Netanyahu so as to warn off Peres from following his Left allies; he ended up getting Netanyahu as prime minsiter though he neither wanted him nor could accept him once he was on the job...)

All you folks with only two parties don't have the faintest idea how complicated this democracy thing can be.

And futile, too, since if you voted Barak so that Bibi would choose him, you don't get him because Shelly (Yachimovitz) and her allies have managed to pull him out of the race, irrespective of what Bibi (and Barak) want. And Lieberman might bolt, if paid well enough, and enable Tzipi to set up a coalition, even though my tactical vote was meant to bolster Bibi from the secular side, not anoint Tzipi....

Which is why I personally have never voted tactically. I figure out which person I'd most like to have as prime minister, and I vote for his or her party. What a quaint idea, don't you think?


Anonymous said...

Considering the cow example seriously I would vote for the cow attacking the bull after the calf was born because even very timid and fearful animals can when having to protect a nest or a litter turn into ferocious fighters (that's not folklore those are my own observations). If that could be established would then not be the calf the real culprit because without it the cow would never have had the nerve. But ... I would like to add a small complication: what if the bull is the father?

Anonymous said...

Silke, I agree, no doubt the bull provoked the cow, it's always like that... Yaacov is only a man, that's why he couldn't see that...

However, Yaacov, since I'm one of those Barak voters made irrelevant by Madame Yachimovitz, I just want to say thank you for mentioning my plight.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I disagree! all you have to do to get a mother switching into litter defending mood is making a totally innocent move which she interprets as aggression
i.e. you just have to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As much as I am all for men bashing, in this case the probability is the bull did nothing wrong besides passing by - but the more interesting question is for me the distribution of liability in case the bull was the father.

Anonymous said...

The case is fanciful, but that's because Talmudic argument is always most comfortable with concrete cases. For all I know the original discussions in the Israeli and Babylonian academies actually were on a theoretical level, but for mnemonic value they recorded them as if they had "really" been about practical problems, however unlikely.

If this were a Common Law dispute it could be phrased something like this: "P claims that his property was injured by the property of D. D admits the causation, but claims that it occurred at a time when O held an undivided interest in D's property." It's not necessarily any easier to follow and there's no intrinsic reason why technical means of describing a problem ought to be preferred to another one.