I am writing to a small demographic today, but whether you are part of that demographic today or not, you will likely entertain the prospect of defensive voting at some point in the future, and I have been wrestling with some thoughts lately that I share for anyone who wants to hear them.
A defensive voter is one who passes on the opportunity to vote for the candidate he/she really prefers in order to vote for a candidate with "a better chance to win." Defensive voting becomes a significant issue in multi-candidate elections like the Mayor's race. So, in this race, someone may say, "I really prefer Briley, but I'm voting for Dean because he has a better chance to make the runoff." This strategic voting is seldom as strategic as it seems in conventional wisdom. I ask you to consider the following weaknesses to this line of thought:
First, chances of winning are unknowable. Assumptions about who is likely to win that are based on polls are always problematic, but beyond that, voting decisions determine who will win. Therefore, strategic decisions that deny the presumptive loser votes become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you think a candidate will lose, so you vote for someone else, then the candidate will lose. The defensive voter is not acting on realities as he/she usual feels. The defensive voter is SHAPING that reality.
Second, the "threat" that the defensive voter defends against is often exaggerated. In the Mayor's race, for instance, the Dean-Briley decision that many blogs are discussing usually evokes some hazy, incomplete description of the supposed horror of a runoff without either of these men. I am not willing to say that that outcome, even though it would not be my preference, is such a real threat that I should throw away my chance to vote for the person I feel will do the best job as Mayor. I have written many times that one of the Mayor's most important jobs is to lead through inspiration. If everyone votes for the candidate he or she believes will do the best job, and Dean and Briley are left out of the runoff, I am not willing to say that Bob Clement would not be a good option. If everyone votes his/her conscience, then whoever makes the runoff will by definition be a candidate who inspires a larger share of Nashville's people. I will have the chance to choose again. Bob Clement, Howard Gentry, and even Buck Dozier are good, honorable men who want to serve. The administrative needs of the city will be well-served by any of them, and the people they will appoint to run city offices will do well in those posts. This conclusion does not mean that I don't passionately prefer Briley's vision and fitness for the job over the rest, but it does mean that I don't really need to throw my vote away "defending" myself against a serious threat. Being able to rally the city is an essential part of leadership, and elections, in the absence of defensive voters, are one clear aspect of demonstrating an ability to do that. Defensive voting, on the other hand, denies a candidate who has already inspired people of the electoral proof of that inspiration.
I am writing today primarily to those who say, "I really prefer Briley (insert the name of your preferred candidate here), but I am voting for "x" because I think he has the better chance to win. Democracy means voting for the person you find best suited for the job. So, if you really think Briley (or any other candidate) is the best suited for the job, I encourage you to vote for him/her. This approach is less likely to polarize our politics and better suited to helping us move forward after an election working together to make our city great.
In football, the commentators often say that the "prevent defense" usually prevents a team from winning. Similarly, defensive voting often defends us against our first choice.