What we want, what we’d give up

Tactical voting illustration by Ellie Foreman-Peck

Pork barreling and horse trading are both terms that conjure up fear for all political purists. The idea of vote trading evokes images of factional power brokers negotiating shady backroom deals to retain their control, however, this is not always the case. Vote trading can allow us to clarify our views and reveal what it is that we truly want, because while most people have strong opinions about what they want, the real question is what are they willing to give up?

Vote trading is simple: I need your vote and you need mine.

There are two possible outcomes: we can both be stubborn and neither will get the outcome we desire, or we can trade votes. Granted, I will have to stomach a policy I do not care that much about, but if it means I get a policy that I really want, then arguably, both parties and their constituents are better off.

It is useless to base our judgements and rhetoric on what we want – it is human nature to want everything, making achieving it the difficult part. We may want low taxes and high spending, or low house prices with high immigration, but both are fantasies when considered in isolation. They can only become serious considerations when we ask ourselves what we would be willing to trade for them.

Consider Bernie Sanders. Ostensibly, Sanders ran on an anti-war platform, but when asked if he would support Gary Johnson – another anti-war candidate – his answer was a short, curt and simple, ‘No’. Sanders cited concerns over Johnson’s economic platform and climate policy, and this tells us something: while Sanders may say he is anti-war, he is unwilling to trade for it.

It is naive to think that policies require no sacrifice. Sanders may have a list of policy prescriptions that he wants implemented, and sure, he wants them all done, but in the end this list is constructed in order of priority. If you had the opportunity to enact five of the policies on your list, does number six really matter? What about number seven? Number eight?

This leads to an interesting question: do you truly want a policy if you’re unwilling to trade for it?

Third parties and political outsiders are key examples. Many of them promise the world, fueling their rise to prominence with pledges for the end to a wide range of public dissatisfactions. Paradoxically, it is the power that fuels their rise which ultimately leads to their fall, as it is only when they have the power to actually influence policy that they have to make a choice. Now, they must think as a member of a collective. What is important to my party? What do we represent? What are we trying to achieve? Navigating this path is difficult for many third parties as they try to get their base to agree, when they only thing that binds the base together is disagreement.

A super interesting case of vote trading is currently sweeping America, where Republicans are being forced to question what it is they really want. Currently, there are efforts underway to bring pork barreling into the digital age. The #NeverTrump app is facilitating contact between two people from different states, and enabling them to strategically trade their votes. Will we see an app like this during the next Australian election, where two people, who would otherwise be voting against a safe seat, trade votes to make their own vote that little bit more marginal? Will this lead to the dissolution of electorates all together? And how can we trust the person on the other end? Either way, vote trading is evidently here to stay.

To claim absolutism on policy is unrealistic, and demanding policy reflect all of your beliefs is simply impossible in a democratic society. As such, we should not ask what we want, but what we can merely tolerate.