Germany is a democracy and there is an important election on Sunday. I know I can vote any of the parties written on the list or nothing, and that within this limitation I am completely free to make my cross.

This is written in the German constitution:

Art. 20.2 GG:

All state authority is derived from the people. It shall be exercised by the people through elections and other votes and through specific legislative, executive and judicial bodies.

Art. 38.1 GG:

Members of the German Bundestag [= a parliament] shall be elected in general, direct, free, equal and secret elections. They shall be representatives of the whole people, not bound by orders or instructions, and responsible only to their conscience.

However, this does not give any indications on what I should vote. I am not asking which party, but what in general.

Should I vote for the party which in my opinion

  1. represents my interests best (aka is best for me),
  2. is best for my country (Germany),
  3. is best for the world,
  4. is best for all humans,
  5. has the best politicians,
  6. has the best ideals,
  7. has the best election posters,
  8. has the best looking representatives, or
  9. will probably win the election (so that I can be happy if my party wins :) ) ...

OR vote in a way that drives the election result furthest in such a direction?

Note that I do not ask what my opinion of "the best ..." should be nor which party to vote for.

I would like to hear your opinion, but I am primary looking for an answer based on facts or cite-able interpretations. If you give your own opinion, please add some reasoning.

  • 4
    You should vote for the person (or party) that you believe should hold the post. Which of the various citeria you use to decide is entirely up to you. Sep 19, 2013 at 16:58
  • What do those sections of the Constitution say in English, or is this question just for bilingual people? Sep 19, 2013 at 17:02
  • You are free to vote for any reason you wish to. Pick the candidate with the funniest name, if it suits you.
    – user1530
    Sep 19, 2013 at 17:26
  • @SamIam I added a translation. Sry, I assumed that part of the question would be only be relevant for people that know German law and could reference a law giving a better description than those paragraphs.
    – jan-glx
    Sep 19, 2013 at 18:25
  • @DJClayworth Thanks for the slightly more constructive answer! Could you please elaborate this to real answer - in particular why you think that I should not vote for the outer left party, when a conservative party is in charge and I would want the medium left party as government?
    – jan-glx
    Sep 19, 2013 at 18:37

3 Answers 3


There are conflicting philosophies and approaches to this (and frankly, no good or clear answer).

There are 3 big problems here, both very vague:

  1. What are your preferences (to use computer science terminology, the complexity of assigning realistic utility/payoff function to each result in real life is staggering-to-impossible).

  2. How do the actual practical results of electing specific people achieve you desired state? Your goals and the end results might (and likely will be) very different, for a variety of reasons:

    • Politicians operate in real world with economic and geopolitical constraints. Obama has a rather spotty war and civil liberties record compared to what many of his voters hoped for (drone strikes - especially on US citizens; NSA scandal; Guantanamo still open; starting or contemplating new military action).

    • Politicians lie.

    • Politicians make mistakes in their policies, which either don't work, or don't work as expected.

  3. Things like "is best for the world" - or even "is best for the country" - are impossible to define even for a single person (see bullet #1), never mind in general.

As such, everyone employs different approaches to voting:

  • Vote to minimize harm (e.g. vote so that the candidate who will be the WORST given your own utility function preference loses).

  • Vote for the most intelligent person (if you don't know enough history to know that's no guarantee of good governance).

  • Vote for the person whose views are most closely aligned to yours

  • Vote for the person who seems like he has the most integrity and honesty (<insert appropriately cynical comment>)

  • Vote for whoever demonstrated the best problem solving ability

  • Vote for the best leader (if you don't know enough history to know that Hitler had outstanding leadership qualities)

  • many many more, none of which are guaranteed to work.

  • Unfortunately but justified by the down votes I got for this question, I am not able to up-vote your answer. So, are you saying there should not be a clean answer? Like with an Ensemble classifier in machine learning the results are better if the classifiers are uncorrelated?
    – jan-glx
    Sep 20, 2013 at 8:44
  • YAK - precisely. It's not a problem prone to solutions of even decent optimizations. In large part it depends on your pholosophy - for me, the very fact that no "correct" solutions are possible pushes me to vote to whoever would minimize the scope and power of the government.
    – user4012
    Sep 20, 2013 at 13:52
  • "Three problems . . . both very vague" I guess I'd tend to agree.
    – Cullub
    Mar 3, 2017 at 17:47

Trying to look at 'all of humanity' or 'what's best for Germany' aren't useful questions. What generally happens is that the problems an elected leader faces are not the ones that are campaign issues. Bush Sr. had no idea Iraq was going to invade Kuwait, Nixon had no idea the price of oil would double before the year was out, Bush Jr. had no idea someone was going to fly airplanes into skyscrapers, and Carter had no idea Iran was going to experience a revolution and turn into an Islamic republic. Therefore you have to look at the capacity of a leader to deal with 'sucker punches'. What's 'good' now may not matter six months from now.

  • How can one know if a leader will handle a sucker punch well? I can know the effects of their policies, but I can't know their character.
    – Publius
    Sep 20, 2013 at 6:00
  • @Avi - Character tends to emerge from 'stress tests'. This is why American presidential campaigns demand endurance - can you survive spending a year or more on the campaign trail? If so, you're probably fit enough to be President, regardless of whether you're qualified. Sep 20, 2013 at 7:04
  • I believe it's true that every elected president has survived the campaign trail, so I'm not sure how useful a metric that is.
    – Publius
    Sep 20, 2013 at 9:39

I don't know if Germany has any unusual rules or cultural norms on the matter, but in the US, you are allowed to vote however you want for whatever reason you want.

If you decided you wanted to vote for the worst candidate instead of the best one, or if you want to vote for the candidate who's name appears first in alphabetical order you can do that. It's your prerogative.

  • I know that I can. (I stated " I know I am completely free to make my cross" In the first line of the question). But what should I do?
    – jan-glx
    Sep 19, 2013 at 18:32
  • Statistics show that candidates coming early in the alphabet are elected more often than those that come later in the alphabet. Sep 19, 2013 at 19:08
  • 1
    @YAK this is about as detailed as you can get before venturing into the realm of opinion Sep 19, 2013 at 19:49
  • source for DJClayworth's comment. Crazy.
    – jan-glx
    Sep 19, 2013 at 22:04
  • @SamIam I'm pretty sure there should be some theory, why democracy works so well. And that such a theory will imply which is the best way to vote.
    – jan-glx
    Sep 19, 2013 at 22:12

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