How true is it that people vote for parties/people that benefit their stances most?

Because if it's true, then it leads to speculation as to, whether voting in democracies is "weighted" enough. Since e.g., if there are more people voting for, say, economic inequality than against economic inequality, then economic inequality would get more power (by majority rule), regardless of whether it's what really should get most power.

Then, if the voting system is stupid enough, it would be possible to legally claim that "hey, we have a majority vote here". But, if the majority idea is not, what should be chosen, then what rules does a democracy have against "false majority"? That's a majority rule that seems like a majority rule (since it has more votes), but which in which case the thing being implemented is not very sane.

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    I'm afraid I have no idea what that last paragraph of yours is supposed to mean. Jun 5, 2018 at 8:28
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    If you think that if politicians would just use science, everything would be fine, you don't know science.
    – Raditz_35
    Jun 5, 2018 at 9:26
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    I read an article once that made a convincing argument that people vote for their beliefs more often than they vote for their personal benefit.
    – userLTK
    Jun 5, 2018 at 11:54
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    "benefit their stances most" - you need to start with the fact that most for issues, even answering that question is at best very difficult and at works objectively impossible. Most answers will be purely ideologically based, and not reflect accurate projections of first, second, and third order effects of impacts of the policy proposed.
    – user4012
    Jun 5, 2018 at 13:59
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    "But, if the majority idea is not, what should be chosen, then what rules does a democracy have against "false majority"?" - who decides what "should" be chosen? You? Me? An elite squad of dedicated detectives who investigate vicious felonies known as the Special Victims Unit?
    – David Rice
    Jun 6, 2018 at 19:47

5 Answers 5


Most democracies, and certainly all democratic countries implement "representative democracy" to some degree. (Someone will mention Switzerland, but it too is far from a direct democracy.)

In a representative democracy, instead of the electorate deciding on issues, the electorate chooses representatives, who then decide on particular issues. This separation between voters and legislation allows for representatives to consider what is right as well as what is popular.

For example in 1965, the UK government decided to abolish the death penalty for murder, even though opinion polls showed that a majority of people supported the death penalty until about 2015.

A representative is not a delegate. He or she is not directed by the electorate on how to vote. They can and do use their judgement, and sometimes (as in the example of capital punishment) are able to take decisions that are directly in opposition to the will of the majority.


TLDR: Voters have a rational disincentive to hold their legislators and politicians accountable; politicians react to voter ignorance by being captured by special interests when "the public good" is broadly and not narrowly defined; bureaucracies become self-serving; all of which promotes government failure. However all that being said, democratic countries tend to produce better outcomes for their constituents that autocratic regimes.

According to Public Choice Theory:

Most people have a rational disincentive to be informed on the subjects.

One of the chief underpinnings of public choice theory is the lack of incentives for voters to monitor government effectively. Anthony Downs, in one of the earliest public choice books, An Economic Theory of Democracy, pointed out that the voter is largely ignorant of political issues and that this ignorance is rational. Even though the result of an election may be very important, an individual's vote rarely decides an election. Thus, the direct impact of casting a well-informed vote is almost nil; the voter has virtually no chance to determine the outcome of the election. So spending time following the issues is not personally worthwhile for the voter. Evidence for this claim is found in the fact that public opinion polls consistently find that less than half of all voting-age Americans can name their own congressional representative.

Public Choice theory further postulates on the nature of politicians, even if the public good could be defined in a pluralistic society (same source):

Public choice economists also examine the actions of legislators. Although legislators are expected to pursue the "public interest," they make decisions on how to use other people's resources, not their own. Furthermore, these resources must be provided by taxpayers and by those hurt by regulations whether they want to provide them or not. Politicians may intend to spend taxpayer money wisely. Efficient decisions, however, will neither save their own money nor give them any proportion of the wealth they save for citizens. There is no direct reward for fighting powerful interest groups in order to confer benefits on a public that is not even aware of the benefits or of who conferred them. Thus, the incentives for good management in the public interest are weak. In contrast, interest groups are organized by people with very strong gains to be made from governmental action. They provide politicians with campaign funds and campaign workers. In return they receive at least the "ear" of the politician and often gain support for their goals.

In other words, because legislators have the power to tax and to extract resources in other coercive ways, and because voters monitor their behavior poorly, legislators behave in ways that are costly to citizens.

These two conditions, tied to bureaucratic self-dealings and interest (in the Weber definition of the life-cycle of bureaucracies) leads directly to government failures:

But public choice economists point out that there also is such a thing as "government failure." That is, there are reasons why government intervention does not achieve the desired effect. ...Congress has frequently passed laws that are supposed to protect people against environmental pollution. But Robert Crandall has shown that congressional representatives from northern industrial states used the 1977 Clean Air Act amendments to reduce competition by curbing economic growth in the Sunbelt. The amendments required tighter emissions standards in undeveloped areas than in the more developed and more polluted areas, which tend to be in the East and Midwest.

However, all that being said, democracies do tend to produce better security, both financial and physical outcomes, for their constituents, and are more vibrant technologically and intellectually, than autocratic regimes, a theme that William McNeill demonstrably proves in the Pursuit of Power

  • Is there a proof for "democracies do tend to produce better security, both financial and physical outcomes, for their constituents, and are more vibrant technologically and intellectually, than autocratic regimes"?
    – mavavilj
    Jun 7, 2018 at 12:44
  • @mavavilj Yes, but it's a deeper discussion as indicated by me posting a book for reference, and probably not suited for this site.
    – user9790
    Jun 7, 2018 at 16:27

Winston S. Churchill — "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

It's the best form of government we have compared to the rest just look at the remaining monarchies, religious oligarchies and one party States that work hard to oppress journalistic and expressive freedom and change in their countries.

Voters should vote in their own self-interest. Unfortunately unscrupulous politicians will try to use this against them.

Jack Lang - "Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It'll be the only one trying"


A few points about difficulties with your subquestion 2:

  • Others have already pointed out that there's the difficulty to decide whose vote should be upweighted (i.e. who decides what is right).
    IMHO, you'd need to prove that your proposed weighing scheme is better than the one we have. In political terms, you need to convince.
    But not knowing any weighing scheme that clearly superior, we refrain from weighting them.

  • In addition you need to consider that there are be lots of questions in politics that may have - even objectively(!) - no single right answer.
    Two books I read that have influenced my world-view in this direction are Sedlaček's Economy of Good and Evil that describes economic world-views as political and cultural positions rather than absolute truths. and the studies described in Poor Economics that often compared possible lines of action that were plausible from a "capitalistic"/right vs. "socialistic"/left world-view. They did not find that the capitalistic or the socialistic world-view is right in the sense that the corresponding proposals would generally work and the other wouldn't. There was no such clear winner, even if the individual studies found what worked in the question at hand and what didn't.
    Personally, I decided to treat economic politics like religion: everyone should be entitled to their own belief. And I think these questions are purely political in the sense that a society may need to take some decision on how they organize themselves, but I do expect that e.g. several ways of organizing a society would be viable.

  • Constitutions are used to give guidance and limits to what simple majorities can decide, and are intentionally set up in a way that makes them harder to change (e.g. changes requiring substantially higher majorities than simple 50% majority, and possibly lengthy procedures).

  • If you have a rule of law in addition to democracy, jurisdiction/courts are there to balance legisalative and executive power and again limit the power your "false" majority has.


"Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch"

In a modern society it is considered almost blasphemous to criticize democracy and to propose alternative solutions. Adjective "undemocratic" is so powerful that it even allows military intervention (Iraq, Libya etc ...) .

In reality, flaws of democracy were already pointed out by Plato more then 2000 years ago. And that was before universal suffrage which gave right to vote to any fool turned 18 or 21.

Since people, especially in our egoistic time, tend to vote primarily on perception of their own interest, it is enough to persuade them that robbing their neighbor is in their best interest, and you would get self-destructive movements. Typical example is persecution of White farmers in Zimbabwe, which included rape and murder as tactics, only to create dire economic crisis. Similar, only not so severe outcome, happens now in SAR.

Problem how to replace current democracy is not easy to solve. First, it would require elimination of special interest like mass media and those who control it, and second it would have to abolish right to vote to those who are not interested in common good. There were propositions to allow voting only to those who have certain IQ level, certain education and who have done some form of national service. But this is a broad topic and warants its own question.

  • Yeah I feel like democracy is held as a too "sacred" thing. And there's a belief that democracy really means "you get what you want", even though I find that representative democracy is just a lighter form of authoritarianism. It's better than monarchy, but still not very democractic.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 5, 2018 at 18:21
  • @mavavilj Representative democracy is actually just a particracy. You don't have much of chance to be elected if you do not have party support and/or huge sums of money for campaign. Especially if you are not already well known.
    – rs.29
    Jun 5, 2018 at 19:23
  • Interesting. I've been fed the perception that democracy = good. Just after I read anarchist philosophies I came to understand that the things that a minority of politicians hold as beliefs are very debatable. And noticed that politicians are not usually very experts at anything.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 5, 2018 at 22:42
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    @rs.29 Preventing people without a certain IQ or education from voting is a meritocracy, which has all new problems. For example, who has the power to decide what merits access to the vote? Who designs the IQ tests and selects the teachers that provide the education? It's very easy to design tests to exclude people you don't like and to introduce bias into the classroom to make sure that those that were educated have opinions beneficial to you. If those that make those decisions are not truly neutral - and no one is truly neutral - then it quickly devolves into an autocracy.
    – user20672
    Jun 7, 2018 at 6:45
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    @rs.29 But I think IQ tests are lousy indicators of "general performance". Because they are short-term tests. Whereas a lot of smart human action is about thinking in the long-term. Ethics and stuff, IQ tests don't inform about those. A better test would be something that tries to gauge the "goodness" of a person. But value systems are difficult to argue as non-subjective.
    – mavavilj
    Jun 7, 2018 at 8:40

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