Libertarians are the most rational voters. This was confirmed by a Yale University study. But before you cheer, the largest mass of voters (independents) proved to be the most prone to impulsive less informed judgments. Hence why rational candidates like Ron Paul lose to emotionally driven campaigns like Trump and Obama.

This is what reasoned libertarians are up against: recognizing voters are not attracted to rational arguments and finding ways to make libertarianism emotionally appealing.

This phenomenon is thoroughly explored in “The Myth of the Rational Voter” by Bryan Caplan. He provides a compelling theory of why voters consistently vote for policies that are against not only society’s interest in general but even their own selfish interest.

I will cover a few of the more interesting points in this book, and I encourage you to buy this enlightening book to learn more.

Rational Ignorance

Protestor with sign: "Don't steal from Medicare to support socialized medicine."

But isn’t Medicare… Never mind!

Sometimes it is rational to remain ignorant. Economists argue it is irrational to pursue something if the cost outweighs its value. The fact is becoming knowledgeable has a cost.

It can sometimes cost money if you are purchasing books.

It consumes time, which is a cost. Sometimes lots of time. What are the unintended consequences of the war on drugs, and do they outweigh the benefits? What sort of blowback do we risk from bombing Arabs decade after decade? What is the appropriate economic policy to ensure maximum prosperity? These are complex questions that require a significant investment in time to understand!

It can even have an emotional cost. Imagine being raised by your family in an ideology (pick any -ism) and investing all your identity into believing that ideology. What would be the emotional toll for you to recognize this ideology was false, that your self-identity, what you fought for, what your parents fought for, was total BS?

Those are the costs it takes to become an informed voter. It would be irrational to become informed unless these costs are outweighed by the benefits. So what are the benefits?

In a word: none. I’ve argued that your farting decisions are more impactful than your voting decisions. This is because, unlike your flatulence, your vote has no impact on anyone around you. Just ask yourself how often your lone vote has swung an election. Here’s a hint: never. As much as we like to tell ourselves how important it is to vote, deep down we all know that our individual vote impacts absolutely nothing, is meant to be cathartic for ourselves, nothing more.

Why would anyone invest all the time and emotion it takes to become informed with no payoff? Why would we expect voting to be any different?

Rational Irrationality

It gets worse. Sometimes irrationality has value. A sort of rational irrationality. (Rational in the sense it provides value.) The human mind rejoices in being right. Every Facebook post and Fox News or CNN blurb that confirms your preconceived notions gives you a shot of dopamine pleasure.

Quantity of irrationality increases as cost decreases.We could draw a demand curve for irrational beliefs. Classical economics assumes that people always pursue their rational self-interest, which would mean that the demand for irrational thoughts would be a perfectly vertical line on the Y axis. In reality, humans enjoy entertaining irrational thoughts, and it has a demand curve that can be graphed against a cost curve: as the cost of irrationality decreases, demand for irrational beliefs increases. Only when the cost of an irrational belief is high enough to outweigh its psychological benefit do we engage in rational thought.

When you consider the cost of being an irrational voter is nil, we see that the demand for irrational political beliefs will be quite high.

Economic Proof

There is a simple test that confirms this. Polls consistently show that 80% to 90% of drivers say they are above average drivers (with similar results no matter what else you ask they are above average in). This is mathematically impossible!

But when asked to place a bet that the answer given is correct then suddenly these polls receive very accurate answers. People pause to reason through before responding. In the former case, people respond with what they want to believe, because saying you’re awesome has emotional value. But when money is on the line, they see the cost of losing the bet outweighs the emotional benefit and spend a moment to reason through it.

Furthermore, voting is a commons: I incur all the cost of becoming rational, but the benefits from my effort are shared in common by all. This is the classic tragedy of the commons. Imagine a community trying to manage a field owned by everyone that feeds everyone. All decisions about that field are made by majority vote. Economists going back to Plato expect that to fail. Why are votes any different?

The Virtue of Selfish Voting?

Altruistic motive can make things even worse. If every irrational voter voted selfishly, there would be no irrational consensus since everyone has his own unique self-interest.

Yet if every irrational voter voted altruistically then things get worse. It’s easy for ignorant voters to come to an irrational consensus on what is good for society. Witness the minimum wage, the war on drugs, the Iraq War, and much more, all of which were supported for the “good of society” despite the reality that they hurt society.

To quote Mr. Caplan:

Irrational unselfish voters are probably more dangerous than irrational selfish ones. If unselfish voters misunderstand the world, they can easily reach a misguided consensus. Their irrationality points them in the wrong direction; their unselfishness keeps them in marching formation, enabling them to rapidly approach their destination. In contrast, if selfish voters misunderstand the world, dissension persists. They move less cohesively—or not at all.

Abandon Rationality for the Win

Voters entering polling booth depositing their brains in a box before entering.

Your target audience.

To sum up, libertarians need to abandon rational arguments and focus on emotion. Find a way to sum up your message in a sound bite. “The war on drugs is a war on people, a war on members of your own family who need help, not incarceration.”

Get out of your libertarian social media bubble and listen to your opponents. Understand their perspectives. Yes, taxation is theft, but that’s not what the irrational hordes believe. Instead, talk about how Eric Garner was murdered by cops for not paying cigarette taxes, or tell the personal story of a grandma who was evicted by the state for not paying taxes on a home she owned for decades and raised her children in.

Make libertarianism exciting with humor, music, and art. Build a libertarian culture that has emotional appeal and the political wins will follow.