Thursday, November 6, 2008

Je Regrette is not a political or self-help forum; however, I need to confess the regret I feel over a recent vote. Fortunately my regret is true to theme and related to judgment and decision-making.

On November 4th I voted on a relatively minor ballot issue here in Massachusetts to ban the practice of greyhound dog racing. I knew the issue was on the ballot along with two others of greater importance. This is unusual for me but I entirely forgot about the measure and entered the balloting booth without already having made a decision on the greyhound issue. I was in a hurry so made a snap decision to vote in favor of banning the practice.

This was a simple yes or no question but as a JDM geek I want to understand why I voted this way. I made a quick decision in the heat of moment. Was I using my hot/emotional system and my rational side would have arrived at a different answer, hence the feeling of regret? Quite possibly. When I voted yes I was thinking of the practice of dog racing itself. I visualized caged dogs, elderly men gambling, smoking, and ticket stub litter and it all seemed primitive and sad. However, I believe the greatest contributor to the decision was my internal framing of the question and my related starting point anchor. In the voting booth the question I asked myself was “do I disapprove of this practice?” I could have formed a different question which was actually much closer to the true one, “should the freedom of others be restricted in this domain?” My baseline/default answers to these two questions are quite different, even in the abstract. Do I disapprove of a questionable practice? Yes. Do I want to restrict freedoms? No. Even if I managed to ask myself both questions, the answer to the question I started with could serve as a powerful anchor and determine the ultimate outcome of the decision.

I am sure that politicos and partisans are well aware of this effect and use it to their advantage. Here we have another argument for a Nudge like Libertarian Paternalism when it comes to designing our ballots. Voting only works if we are asking the right questions.

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