The Ambiguity of Voting

In both politics and commerce there is a flaw in the perception of voting.  People vote thinking that they are communicating their intent to the entity their vote was cast.  The problem is, this is simply not the case.  As a result what we often vote for isn’t what we get.  Here are two examples.

Let me first start with the issue of politics since this is where people most often realize they are casting a vote.  The recent debacle over “Health Care Reform” is a prime example of miscommunication between voters and the politicos they put into office.  The Democrats saw the 2008 election as a mandate from the voters do push forward many of the far left (on the American spectrum) policies that have been sidelined for years.  However when it came time to actually attempt to do so they have received significant pushback from the population, including many of the people from whom they received votes.  This is because a vote for someone is not the same as consent for specific actions that person might take.  This is especially true when the votes are more cast against someone (in this case against the Republican Party as a referendum on the unpopularity of Bush II) than for someone.

However this concept is sometimes not that easy to tickle out of emotionally charged realm of politics.  That brings me to my second example, commerce.  Whether a person realizes it or not they are also voting every time they make a purchase.  They are voting for many different things at once.  By frequenting a particular store or web site they are giving tacit approval of that store/site’s selection, pricing and policies.  By picking a particular item they are giving tacit approval of that products features, price point and production process.  However, what drives a consumer to purchase a particular item is not really communicated to the market effectively.  Here’s a good example.

My wife purchases organically produced milk.  It costs more than milk produced in a more commercial way.  The common perception is that we are either conscious of the environment or we’re worried about what goes into traditionally produced milk.  As such the market might stock other organically produced milk based on that purchasing pattern.  But we don’t give one whit about how the milk is produced.  We’re not getting it because it is organic, we’re getting it because it is cheaper, for us, than regular milk.  We don’t drink a large volume.  Because of this the normal half-gallon cartons we were buying would often go bad with 1/3rd to 1/4th left in the container.  The brand of organic milk we purchase is ultra-pasteurized instead of just pasteurized.  As a result the milk lasts longer, so much so that we can go through a whole gallon without a drop going bad as opposed to tossing 1/3rd to 1/4th of all milk we purchase.

If the markets were to stock more organic, but non-ultra-pasteurized, milk they would be falling into the same trap that the Democrats have.  Mistaking a vote for a particular product, a sum of many different decisions, as approval for one specific decision to the exclusion of all other factors.


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