Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Sincerity and symbolism in legislator behavior

Both Steven Taylor and Eric Lindholm note that John Kerry was on both sides of the supplemental appropriations bill for Iraqi and Afghan reconstruction. In particular, Eric notes this rather curious position by Kerry:

Mr. Kerry has indicated that he might have voted [in favor of final passage of the bill] had his vote been decisive.

Now, it is arguably rational for voters to behave differently when their vote is decisive (or pivotal) than when it isn’t; voting is both a symbolic act and part of a decision-making process. The normative question is: given that most votes are not inherently pivotal, should citizens nonetheless expect sincere voting behavior from their representatives, rather than the symbolic behavior that Kerry essentially admits he demonstrated? Given that representatives are supposed to be accountable for their votes—hence the use of non-secret ballots—my gut feeling is that citizens should expect sincere voting by the legislators they are represented by, whether we’re discussing procedural motions or votes on final passage.