How to Vote Well

Want to vote well? It takes more than information.
We need to process information in an open-minded and reliable way or it does us no good, and
most of us are really bad at doing this. Imagine two doctors both want to heal sick
patients. The first, Quinton, doesn’t follow scientific evidence. He follows his heart.
When he forms his beliefs about medicine, he just believes whatever feels right. The
second, Edna, has a scientific mindset. She doesn’t just follow her heart; she bases her
beliefs on the best available evidence. Which doctor would you want to help you – Quinton
or Edna? I bet you’d say Edna. Quinton means well, but he isn’t helping anyone. But unfortunately,
as voters, there’s reason to think most of us are more like Quinton than Edna. Research shows that most voters suffer from
many cognitive biases, regardless of their political bias. A cognitive bias is a systematic
pattern of deviation from rational thought. For most voters, it doesn’t matter if they
read the news or study candidates’ platforms. Their votes reflect their biases. To vote
well, we need to overcome our biases. So what are some of the worst biases? I’ll
name four important ones. First, optimism bias means we systematically
overestimate the likelihood our decisions will produce good results and underestimate
the probability things will go badly. We ignore the possibility of unforeseen consequences. Second, confirmation bias means that we tend
to look for and accept any new evidence that favors our pre-existing current opinions and
we ignore, reject, or are suspicious of evidence that undermines our current opinions. Third, in-group bias means we’re prone to
treat political disagreements as battles between rival teams. We’re biased to believe that
anything our team does, no matter how bad, is good just because our team does it. We’re
biased to believe the other team is bad no matter what they do. We’re quick to forgive
our side and quick to condemn the other side. Fourth, action bias means we always feel like
we have to do something rather than nothing. Sometimes the best response is to sit and
wait until we know more because something we might want to do might just create new
problems. These four biases come naturally to most people.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we can probably recognize one or more of them in our own past
decisions and behavior. So, how can we help avoid these biases when
voting? Well, here are some steps that every voter should consider. First, don’t label yourself. Once you identify
with a group, you’ll feel compelled to show fidelity to the team even when you should
be skeptical. Stay independent. Second, listen to the other side and challenge
your own views. Find and read the smartest criticisms of your own current views and the
smartest defenses of other positions. For a while, take a break from reading things
that support your current opinions. Third, stop and think. Our problems may be
urgent, thus precisely why we must avoid hasty decisions and false solutions. Take time to
step back, let your emotions cool, and carefully analyze problems before your reach an opinion. Fourth, avoid the news and focus on the social
sciences. News is often just noise. Sensationalist news is what sells and it’s often misleading.
If you want to be a good voter, invest in learning the basics of economics, sociology,
and political science. Fifth, assume that things will go much worse
than expected. Whatever your side proposes to do, take your best estimate of the benefits
and then cut them in half. Take your best estimate of the costs and double them. If
it’s not still worth doing, then don’t vote to do it. Remember, you don’t do anyone a
favor by voting irresponsibly. Most of us can vote well but, just like anything else,
doing it well takes work.

About the author


  1. Now I don't get it. If you do know that factions destroy liberty and voting just creates factions of the majority, then why would you support it??? If we need to work against this partisanship system, the only conceivable way I can think of is to stopping voting….and then the State ends. The greatest faction of all times could be over if nobody voted…that's why voting does destroy liberty! It's possible to conclude this just by reading your last reply! (if indeed I fully understood it)

  2. This is actually a false assumption. Everybody that voted for Obama wanted the things he was saying & the things that he helped implement but, they had a lack of knowledge of the consequences of those actions. I have a firm belief that voting in the primaries is more important than voting in the general election & the closer the persons job is to you the faster the change it can make in your life. That belief tells me that a mayor will have more of an impact on my life than the president does.

  3. Firm beliefs are worse than assumptions. Are there any examples of voting in the history of the world ever making the people more free?

  4. It is your opinion that the American people still have an outlet for change. Voting seems to be rigged, media bias keeps the field tilted, the two-party system and first-past-the-post voting style keeps even a 49% majority left without representation. You can think, debate, and consider all you want, but if you don't DO anything, nothing will be done.

  5. One could believe in what overwhelming objective scientific research tells you (yes global warming does exist) rather than believe your preacher who is calling our President the "Anti-Christ." You could believe historians who have recorded that Obama had put together a group to address Bush's 2008 stock market and home value crashes long before Obama was elected. McCain had no clue. Most objective economists have agreed with Obama's stimulus actions or thought they should have been bigger.

  6. It seems to me that the "referendum, initiative, recall" voting style needs to be either recalled to life or politicians will never listen to their constituents completely. Our indirect democracy is not competitive enough with our thirst for representation and liberty, at least not mine. Elected officials are to act as puppets to the people that voted them into office. They're to gather the many voices and make it one, which most do not do.

  7. "Most objective economists have agreed with Obama's stimulus actions or thought they should have been bigger."

    Right. Sure. Fuck you and your rhetoric.

    Don't vote for either of the two parties. They do nothing but hold your country back.

  8. Reminds me of what "American Bob" once said: "Using your cognitive faculties to research the finer points of an issue before arriving at a reasonable conclusion? Ooo, I don't know, that sounds elitist. That's not what us regular, down-to-Earth, Heartland, NORMAL people do; we have convictions! We BELIEVE in things!"

    Yeah, sounds like sarcasm, but it might actually be sadly true…

  9. Now that's just incoherent. Everything needs a strategy; even "do nothing for now" is a strategy that works for some kinds of situations. This isn't one of them.

  10. Voting is meaningless when government itself is a puppet to the banking elites who have scammed this world into despair through fractional & central banking.

  11. I've seen many and idiot who label themselves liberal or conservative be the idiots he talks about who reject all evidence that they are wrong and lap up media bull crap because it supports their beliefs.

  12. LOL

    Ok…lets start with number 5:

    Supporting Ron Paul, the worst case scenario: Middle East bombed Isreal and came for US since they don't want to forgive.

    Supporting Obama or any other mainstream candidates: Everyone around the world hates US…so they will all come for us as if we are the new Nazi….

    I'm sticking with the first one. LOL

  13. bill of rights man, they understood that in some cases the majority may want to harm the minority, that is why we established rights, things that all people have regardless of affiliation.

  14. Google Voluntaryism. We believe that all human interactions should be voluntary. The very existence of a state relies upon the threat of violence for funding i.e. taxation. We advocate an end to statism through non violent, and non political means. We don't want a violent overthrow because 1) that violates the non aggression principle, and 2) it'll just result in a new state taking over. We also don't advocate voting because it's counter productive to our goal of liberty for all.

  15. Unlike trade, voting is a win/lose game. If you, and the majority of other people vote to spend resources in one area, the state has to take those resources from another area. It's the very definition of exploitation. To think that democracy is the only way to achieve peace in society is very naive. In fact democracy does the very opposite by forcing some people against their will to comply with the ruling of the majority.

  16. I used to think like you. In fact it wasn't all that long ago. I voted for Gary Johnson in the last election… that did nothing. Less than %1 of voters voted for him. Trying to change the state for the better through voting is like trying to infiltrate the mafia with the goal of turning it into a charity. Imagine what life would have been like in 1930s era Germany if everyone just ignored Hitler.

  17. The concept of a constitution is a nice idea, but it doesn't work in practice. The idea of a self limited state is like a self limited serial killer. You can't trust tyrants to keep their word. This is clearly evidenced by the fact that the state has absolutely no respect for the bill of rights, and actively seeks to undermine it with legislation like the NDAA, and gun control laws.

  18. They can, and do control the voting public, and that's exactly why nothing ever changes for the better in this country. When the founders created the US government it was one of the most limited forms of government in human history. Now just 2 centuries (very short lifespan for a state) later the US government is the most powerful, and tyrannical government on Earth.

  19. That is false. If no one votes, and no one consents to being ruled then there will be no ruler. At least not in a society as well armed as America. There are tens of millions of armed citizens in this country. Any would be dictator who tried to impose their will through force would find themselves outnumbered, and outgunned several times over. As Andy said. Voting only changes the face of the dictator. It's because you're consenting to be ruled that we're in this mess.

  20. Voting is counterproductive to the goal of liberty because unlike trade it's a negative sum game. Unless the vote is completely unilateral, and everyone affected by the vote participates (which is statistically impossible in a country of 300+ million.) Someone is going to be negatively affected by the vote.

    Any true libertarian knows that voting is a collectivist idea. Decentralized mutual, and voluntary cooperation is a far more efficient, and ethical means of achieving goals.

  21. The very existence of a state is reliant upon the violation of individual liberty because all states rely upon taxation for funding. Taxation is simply a fancy term for theft. What the state spends our money on doesn't matter. The fact remains that the money would be better spent if people were allowed to spend it themselves. I don't want to be robbed, and I don't want to rob anyone else so I refuse to participate in electoral politics.

  22. The US government treats its own citizens alright at the moment (though we do have the highest prison population of any nation on Earth) It's the tyranny the US government commits overseas that makes it the most tyrannical state on Earth right now. At least the North Koreans keep within their own borders.

  23. The notion of voting for which leader will run the country is like the notion of slaves voting for which slave owner will run the plantation. The very existence of the state is reliant upon property theft. We all work to produce products, and services that people find valuable, but the state leaches a portion of that wealth from us all without producing any wealth itself. All the state does is move wealth around.

  24. Certainly, if everyone in the countries around Germany had decided to ignore Hitler, we would all be speaking German. It's a prisoners dilemma situation, and the more people that disengage, the more power the few can gather to themselves.

  25. That's not what I said. If all (or at least most) of the citizens of Germany had ignored Hitler. If they didn't have a central monopoly on violence (a state) if they didn't have elections. Hitler would have never risen to power, nor would any other tyrant, and millions of people would not have been slaughtered.

  26. So a half million Iraqi children starved to death due to US government trade sanctions is justified by globalization? I'm not against global trade. If anything I'm completely for it, but states are a barrier to that. There's no reason for borders except to divide people. A truly free market means a stateless society, and stateless society has no borders.

  27. It's not the fault of the American people. It's the fault of the American government. Market anarchy is not idealistic. It's based on well tested economic theory. Every service the state currently provides can be, and has been provided by the market at some point in history. From private security, and courts to public goods like roads, and bridges. There is absolutely no reason why these things can't be paid for voluntarily.

  28. You forget that even if voters started to drop off, the incentive to vote would increase per capita as a smaller portion of the population continued voting. Telling people to not vote, while possibly rational for other reasons, is not a coherent plan for enacting anarchy.

    I think you are suffering from the old and common problem of ideals and pragmatic actions not being consistent.

  29. I just don't believe continuing to participate in a system that exists to enslave us is ever going to free us. Voting for political leaders is like slaves on a plantation voting for which owner whips them. It doesn't matter who wins the election, the end result is the same. I respect the goals of libertarian politicians, but the powers that be are never going to let an openly libertarian candidate anywhere near the white house. Even if they did it's doubtful anything would change.

  30. I remember saying the exact same thing when I first discovered Voluntaryism. It wasn't even all that long ago. I voted for Gary Johnson in the last election along with less than 1% of the rest of the voting public. The only way I can see a Libertarian becoming president is if they lie, and pose as a Democrat, or Republican like in the fictional novel The Iron Web by Larken Rose. I don't want to spoil it for anyone so I won't reveal any more of the plot, but it's a great book.

  31. Violence, and electoral politics are the same thing. When you elect a leader you're forcing all the losing, and non participating parties follow your leader. It's a negative sum game.

    Chances are you live 99% of your life as an a anarchist. You do not do things because the state gives you permission to do them. You do them because you're a rational human being who can make decisions for him/herself.

  32. The state is a monopoly on the 'legitimate' use of violence within a geographical region. Are you suggesting that if it wasn't for this monopoly on violence that society would embrace chaos? Would you kill your next door neighbor just for the hell of it if there wasn't a state?

    If politicians are servants, and tools acting on your behalf the then the wars, and the bailouts, and the debt. That's all your fault.

  33. So we need a state that taxes us, and threatens to imprison or kill us if we don't comply with their edicts in order to protect us from thieves, kidnappers, and murderers? I own a gun. I don't need the state to protect me.

    When has any government ever been reigned in by the people through politics? The US government has only ever grown. It has never shrank since its inception. You know politics is a fixed game. You cannot win, so why even bother playing?

  34. I support global trade, but only if it's in a free market. Statism is a barrier to global free trade due to boarders, regulations, taxes, tariffs, and contradictory laws.

  35. Name one example of a government being reduced in power by political means such as voting as as opposed to violent revolt like the American revolution, or non political means such as Gandhi's pacifist protest of British rule in India.

  36. Reagan didn't shrink government, he increased government expenditure. The last president to actually reduce spending was Eisenhower. Protest isn't voting.

  37. Limited government is not a new idea, it's the concept America was founded upon, and even before that people knew giving too much power to a small group of people was dangerous. Protesting is begging the government. Voting is giving consent to the government to rule you, and everyone else regardless of whether they consent or not. It legitimizes their authority over us. If enough people objected to their rule they'd fall like a house of cards.

  38. Protesting sure. Mahatma Gandhi is probably my biggest role model, but he didn't vote the British out of India. He actively disobeyed them through direct action. Instead of begging for permission from the state to do something he did it, and dared the state to stop him.

    How has voting kept the government in check? Have you taken a look at the government recently?

  39. Did I not just say "It legitimizes their authority over us."? You legitimize the mass murder of innocent people on the other side of the planet, and the theft of millions of hard working people by voting, and gleefully paying your taxes as if you're donating to the most charitable organization on Earth.

    I didn't make the government. I was born under its boot. I'll resist it, and beg it for mercy if I have too, but I will not legitimize its rule over me, or any other human being.

  40. I'm not free from state coercion, and that's the problem. I risk being imprisoned, or killed if I don't follow the edicts of your masters. I don't care if you submit to being ruled. It's the fact that you don't support any option to opt out of the system that disturbs me. I'm forced to go along with the electoral process whether I participate, and consent to it or not. How can you call this the land of the free?

  41. Before you were suggesting we could improve policy by not voting. After I offered rebuttal, you've bounced over to something that's even farther from being a concise, useful plan than before.

    If not participating in the system is your actual intention, consider moving to another country or investing in seasteading.

    You correctly assert that voting has an expected utility of near zero, but your current plan to improve policy seems to be little more than unfeasible ideas with conspiracy talk.

  42. If 51% of people want to fund a project, but the remaining 49% don't. Is it ethical to use violence, or the threat of violence to force the 49% to fund the project?

    That is the problem I have with democracy. It's not about efficiency. It's about ethics. Democracy is viewed by many as the peaceful solution to society's problems but in reality it's just as violent as any dictatorship, or monarchy.

  43. If the people controlled the state there would be no state since almost everyone is opposed to taxation, war, and all the other injustices of statism.

    I don't wish to impose my will on other people without their consent, and cooperation. Democracy is just as violent as any other form of statism. Just look at all the violence, and death caused by the US government in the last century, and tell me again how democracy isn't violent.

  44. I never said we could improve policy by not voting. I don't want to influence politics. That's the point. You, and I have absolutely no right to enforce our will upon anyone. Nor do we have the right to elect someone else to enforce our will upon others. Democracy is about making one group freer than another group at the point of a gun.

  45. Define "pure libertarian."

    You misunderstand me. War does not exist because of democracy. War exists because of statism. Democracy whether representative, or direct is just a type of statism. Democracy itself is violent because it is forced upon non participants.

    My rights as a human being do no vanish simply because I'm outnumbered. There are other ways of getting things done in society that are not reliant upon coercion, and violence.

  46. Show me this social contract. I never signed such a thing. Are you suggesting that merely existing inside the territorial bounds claimed by a state that I am consenting to be ruled by said state?

    Positive rights come at the expense of other people. Healthcare is an example of this. In order to provide free healthcare to some people, others have to pay for it.

    Negative rights do not inflict any expense. You have no right to steal. You have no right to kill. You have no right to rape. etc.

  47. The state does not maintain law, and order. If anything statism is chaos. How many Americans are behind bars despite having never caused physical, or financial harm to anyone else? How many real criminals who have hurt people gotten off the hook? How many people die as a result of the drug war, or the war on terror?

    If the state disappeared tomorrow. A lot of people would be confused, and possibly frightened, but ultimately there would be less violence in society.

  48. The problem is America was founded by minarchists; believers in limited government like you. Objectively the American experiment has failed miserably. This country had at its birth one of the most limited governments in history, and now just two centuries later it has one of the largest, and most tyrannical. Small governments never stay that way for long.

  49. America was far from a libertarian paradise at its founding. Slavery was socially accepted, and state enforced. That's about as far from libertarian philosophy as one can get. My point was that the American government started out very small, and yet today it's one of the largest in history.

    Classical liberalism is Libertarianism. State socialists usurped the term liberal. Some Libertarians still prefer the term classical liberal.

  50. "I never said we could improve policy by not voting.'
    I meant switching to whatever you consider more optimal, in your case some manner of anarchy. Either way, you did claim you would achieve it by convincing people to not vote.

    Quote: "Voting changes nothing but face of the dictator. No one votes, no one rules."

    You seem convinced that this is a worthwhile use of your efforts. I think this is highly unlikely to accomplish anything.

  51. I don't vote because I think it'll lead to an anarchist society. That would require the overwhelming majority of society to support a transition to anarchy, and that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. I don't vote because it's unethical, and it doesn't change anything anyways. If I were to vote I'd probably vote for the Libertarian party, or a candidate who promised to end the federal gov't, but the chances of someone like that getting anywhere near the White House are practically 0.

  52. If you followed this advice, you'd eventually become a non-voter, which is the best kind of voter there is.

  53. Are you voting tomorrow? Are you sure you’re ready? Professor Jason Brennan goes through what it takes to be a helpful voter — and what factors might get in the way of good voting.

    #libertarian #liberty #voting #vote #election2013 #election #electionday2013  

  54. I'm brazilian, here voting is mandatory. Next year going to be my first year voting, and you videos are really helpful for me! Thank you to show me know how to vote better 🙂

  55. I read "Libertarianism: What everyone needs to know" which is authored by this man. Brilliant individual

  56. You can eliminate these 4 biases from your life, or you can be a sheep until you are slaughtered by reality.

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