Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
  #1  
Old 02-25-2020, 10:26 AM
Pleonast's Avatar
Pleonast is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Los 'Kamala'ngeles
Posts: 7,465

Buying elections and voter agency


I'm trying to understanding the phrase "buying an election" in the context of voter agency.

It seems to me that one of the foundational axioms of democracy is that voters have enough agency to select their own choice during elections. If they don't have enough agency to do that, then why have a democracy? It'd be better to have the proper authorities decide what is best for the people, if they do not have enough agency to make their own choice.

Politicians spend money to buy messages to influence the choices voters make at an election. It seems to me that that only becomes "buying an election" if the influence is removing agency from voters. That is, preventing voters from having a choice. I don't see how that's possible. The messaging does not remove options from the ballot. The voters choose in secret.

Please explain to me how buying election is possible without denying that voters have agency to vote how they please. My mind is open to change on this.

In light of the forum guidance "Keep threads specific and debatable. No wide omnibus threads. We want to see clear, specific topics and thread titles.", let's please stay focused on this topic. Topics this thread is not about: money in politics, voter suppression, ballot access, specific campaigns, etc.
  #2  
Old 02-26-2020, 09:48 AM
Pleonast's Avatar
Pleonast is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Los 'Kamala'ngeles
Posts: 7,465
Using my bump ration.

No arguments? No agreements? Are theoretical political science questions not an interest? Am I a Boltzmann brain doomed to brief existence?
  #3  
Old 02-26-2020, 10:02 AM
CarnalK's Avatar
CarnalK is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Posts: 19,663
Except for Bloomberg, I never really heard of an expensive ad campaign as "buying an election". I usually think of it as inducing influential people to pull voters for you, like union or church leaders. Sometimes incumbents will "bribe people with their own money" with lavish spending programs announced before an election.

The voters have agency but often look to their community leaders for guidance. If you give a church $50k and the pastor is expected to stump for you, that's kinda buying the election.
  #4  
Old 02-26-2020, 10:14 AM
Left Hand of Dorkness's Avatar
Left Hand of Dorkness is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 1999
Location: at the right hand of cool
Posts: 42,361
It's an excluded middle. Yes, voters have agency; yes, their decisions are influenced by their environment, just like everyone's decisions on all subjects are constantly influenced by that environment.

When a candidate spends far, far more than anyone else has a hope of spending in an attempt to so drastically alter that environment that decisions become hugely influenced that's buying an election.
  #5  
Old 02-26-2020, 01:43 PM
Pleonast's Avatar
Pleonast is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Los 'Kamala'ngeles
Posts: 7,465
Quote:
Originally Posted by Left Hand of Dorkness View Post
It's an excluded middle.
Can you explicitly say what you mean by excluded middle here? I think I included your scenario in my original post.

Or is this just a semantics difference where your “buying the election” implies a transaction between the politician and the voters (that is, the voters retain agency when the election is bought). And my “buying the election” implies a deterministic cause and effect (there is no agency exercised by the voters).
  #6  
Old 02-26-2020, 01:54 PM
Eonwe's Avatar
Eonwe is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Burlington VT
Posts: 8,703
The #1 danger of the combination of massively concentrated wealth and universal access to the population via the internet and constant media consumption is that our ability to exercise "free thought" about things depends upon lack of constant influence.

The bottom line is that marketing and related communication works because our thought independence is imaginary (or, if one wants to be less absolutist, is easily and predictably influenced).

I don't think Democracy works because we all have agency of thought. It works because of diversity of thought.
  #7  
Old 02-26-2020, 02:03 PM
Shodan is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Milky Way Galaxy
Posts: 40,737
I think part of it is the assumption, not that I don't have agency, but other people don't.

Of course I am too smart, savvy and sophisticated to fall for the ads, but those other people - the rubes - they will.

The Freakonomics analysis says that politicians don't win because they get more contributions - they get more contributions because they win.

Of course Bloomberg is at 12% (or whatever) pretty much because he has spent millions on advertising. But he is at 12%, not 50. And Hillary outspent Trump by something like two-to-one.

Regards,
Shodan
  #8  
Old 02-26-2020, 02:08 PM
Velocity is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 16,870
It's of course not a binary black-and-white thing where either you are fully bought or not bought at all - voters technically still have the freedom to use pen to mark out a ballot as they please for any candidate other than the Super Rich One. But the Super Rich candidate who outspends his opponents 100-to-1 in advertising, etc. has influenced voters much more this way than the ones who have not.
  #9  
Old 02-26-2020, 02:51 PM
Wesley Clark is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 23,369
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shodan View Post
I think part of it is the assumption, not that I don't have agency, but other people don't.

Of course I am too smart, savvy and sophisticated to fall for the ads, but those other people - the rubes - they will.

The Freakonomics analysis says that politicians don't win because they get more contributions - they get more contributions because they win.

Of course Bloomberg is at 12% (or whatever) pretty much because he has spent millions on advertising. But he is at 12%, not 50. And Hillary outspent Trump by something like two-to-one.

Regards,
Shodan
Yeah but Steyer has spent a lot of his money on this election cycle and gotten nowhere. That part kind of confuses me, why does one self funding billionaire get so far while another self funding billionaire has gotten nowhere.

Not only that, but Steyer actually is a democrat. He leans left on almost every issue, but despite having much less net worth than BLoomberg, he donates more to leftist causes. I think he has donated 250 million to leftist causes so far, while Bloomberg is less. Bloomberg also donates heavily to right wing politicians too.

So for me, the question is why does the self funding billionaire who is a bonafide leftist get nowhere while the self funding billionaire who is a moderate republicans (who also believes in climate change and gun control) gets 20% of the vote? Also Steyer doesn't have Bloomberg's skeletons in his closet. Steyer doesn't have the racial history, history against women or history of being a republican that Bloomberg has.

I think thats something political scientists will need to make sense of in the coming years. It could just be name recognition, it could be that Bloomberg is spending far higher than Steyer. But it kind of shows that being a self funding billionaire, in and of itself, isn't the only factor in gaining support.

This isn't meant to be off topic, its just tied into the concept that money influences politics and how a rich candidate in line with the democratic party is doing worse than a rich candidate not in line with the democratic party.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion
  #10  
Old 02-26-2020, 02:54 PM
Velocity is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Jun 2014
Posts: 16,870
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wesley Clark View Post
Yeah but Steyer has spent a lot of his money on this election cycle and gotten nowhere. That part kind of confuses me, why does one self funding billionaire get so far while another self funding billionaire has gotten nowhere.

Not only that, but Steyer actually is a democrat. He leans left on almost every issue, but despite having much less net worth than BLoomberg, he donates more to leftist causes. I think he has donated 250 million to leftist causes so far, while Bloomberg is less. Bloomberg also donates heavily to right wing politicians too.

So for me, the question is why does the self funding billionaire who is a bonafide leftist get nowhere while the self funding billionaire who is a moderate republicans (who also believes in climate change and gun control) gets 20% of the vote? Also Steyer doesn't have Bloomberg's skeletons in his closet. Steyer doesn't have the racial history, history against women or history of being a republican that Bloomberg has.

I think thats something political scientists will need to make sense of in the coming years. It could just be name recognition, it could be that Bloomberg is spending far higher than Steyer. But it kind of shows that being a self funding billionaire, in and of itself, isn't the only factor in gaining support.

This isn't meant to be off topic, its just tied into the concept that money influences politics and how a rich candidate in line with the democratic party is doing worse than a rich candidate not in line with the democratic party.

Mostly name recognition. Bloomberg has been mayor of NYC for many years and was/is well-known to many. To this day many people still have no clue who Tom Steyer was/is.
  #11  
Old 02-26-2020, 02:58 PM
Pleonast's Avatar
Pleonast is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Aug 1999
Location: Los 'Kamala'ngeles
Posts: 7,465
Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
It's of course not a binary black-and-white thing where either you are fully bought or not bought at all - voters technically still have the freedom to use pen to mark out a ballot as they please for any candidate other than the Super Rich One. But the Super Rich candidate who outspends his opponents 100-to-1 in advertising, etc. has influenced voters much more this way than the ones who have not.
Exactly. And my question is: why call this "buying the election"?

To me, something "bought" has no agency. I buy a vacation and my vacation is the deterministic result of my purchase. I don't have complete control over every detail, but there's no other agency that could choose to make the vacation not mine. When a candidate buys influence, and the voters still have a choice, then I would not call it "buying the election", because there are other agencies that control the outcome of the election.

I only use "buying the election" when the purchaser removes agency from the voters; for example, when a dictator controls all media and suppresses dissent, that "election" has been bought. That's not the topic of this thread.
  #12  
Old 02-26-2020, 03:09 PM
Wesley Clark is offline
Guest
 
Join Date: Aug 2003
Posts: 23,369
Quote:
Originally Posted by Velocity View Post
Mostly name recognition. Bloomberg has been mayor of NYC for many years and was/is well-known to many. To this day many people still have no clue who Tom Steyer was/is.
Thats my assumption. Also the Bloomberg news gives him a lot of name recognition the same way Trump got name recognition from his buildings and the apprentice.

Having said that, people said the same thing about Biden until people started voting. He was doing amazing in the polls, everyone knew his name but once people started voting he lost badly.

So I think we have to wait until after super Tuesday to find out for sure if Bloomberg is actually able to buy an election with money alone. If he spends $500 million and ends up with 10% of the vote on super tuesday, thats a sign he can't. If he takes 20-25% of the vote and wins hundreds of delegates (coming second behind Sanders) thats a sign he can.
__________________
Sometimes I doubt your commitment to sparkle motion
  #13  
Old 02-26-2020, 03:57 PM
Little Nemo is offline
Charter Member
 
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: Western New York
Posts: 84,997
People often refuse to believe that their views can be influenced by messaging.

These same people believe they made a rational selection about what brand of beer they purchase.
  #14  
Old 02-26-2020, 05:48 PM
Banquet Bear's Avatar
Banquet Bear is online now
Guest
 
Join Date: Oct 2002
Location: Wellington, New Zealand
Posts: 5,953
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pleonast View Post
Exactly. And my question is: why call this "buying the election"?
...Coca Cola has just under 50% of market share for carbonated beverages worldwide. Do people have agency when they go to the supermarket to buy themselves a tasty carbonated beverage? Of course they do. Is Coca Cola objectively better than other carbonated beverages though? Is it healthier? Why are consumers more likely to buy a Coke than one of hundreds of other competitor products?

Coke spent 2 billion more than its closest rival Pepsi in marketing. Think about how many more eyeballs that buys you. There are plenty of coke adverts on TV. Billboards. Adverts. Go to the local fish and chips shop and the coke products are all stored in a coke fridge with giant red coke branding sitting underneath a photo of smiling happy people sitting on the beach drinking bottles of coke.

I don't think that to say "Coca Cola has bought that market share" is an unfair characterization. And I don't think its unfair to say that Bloomberg is (comparatively) spending Coke levels of money on marketing while his opponents are spending the equivalent budget of Foxton Fizz. Bloomberg is buying market share. He hasn't grown in the polls because of his outstanding debate skills, scintillating personality, or his detailed policy platform. He is simply running a effective marketing campaign.

People have agency. But we also know how effective marketing can be to the point where things can become somewhat predictable. For my business I know that if I spend $100 on advertising on Facebook that typically converts to a single customer and this scales. The sheer volume of money (and more importantly, where he has put it) that Bloomberg has committed to the race almost guaranteed he was going to get a percentage of the vote (or market share). There is no great big mystery here.
Reply

Bookmarks

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -5. The time now is 07:28 AM.

Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.7
Copyright ©2000 - 2020, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.

Send questions for Cecil Adams to: cecil@straightdope.com

Send comments about this website to: webmaster@straightdope.com

Terms of Use / Privacy Policy

Advertise on the Straight Dope!
(Your direct line to thousands of the smartest, hippest people on the planet, plus a few total dipsticks.)

Copyright © 2019 STM Reader, LLC.

 
Copyright © 2017