In 2010, a surge in Tea Party activism helped elect Sen. Marco Rubio (and many other conservatives) to congress. In June, though, Rubio dealt a huge blow to the very electorate that had supported him, by voting for a bill that would provide a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. The bill passed (1). Tea Party members were furious, calling Rubio a backstabber, a traitor, and the like. In short, he bit the hand that feeds. And the Tea Party is promising that, in the event of a 2016 presidential run, Rubio will feel the blowback. As one prominent Tea Party leader put it: “The most powerful thing we have as a movement is our feet and our vote.” (2)
As an aside, I think it’s strange that the Tea Party so vehemently opposes immigration. Don’t libertarians support the free market? Our labor market has certainly expressed a desire for cheap immigrant labor. Why hasn’t the Tea Party? Stranger still is that they take a position in the first place. As I recall, the original partiers dumped their tea into Boston Harbor because it was too heavily taxed, not because it was picked by immigrants (weren’t we the immigrants back then?). That’s beside the point, though. I came here to talk about another interesting aspect of this story: the Tea Party’s decision to collectively turn its back on Senator Rubio.
By voting as a unit, the Tea Party carries immense political power. Rubio might be wise to consider changing his stance on immigration, simply to avoid losing the Tea Party voting bloc. But is organized, collectivized voting fair? I hold that such voting is anticompetitive, which adds to the irony of the whole situation, given that competition is a core tenet of the libertarian values system.
Consider an analogous situation: that of labor unions. As individuals, workers have little bargaining power. If Robber Baron decides to lower wages from $8.00 per hour to $7.50, and Joe Workman is unhappy with the change, he can threaten to quit, but Robber doesn’t care. However, if every worker decides that they’re not working for under $8.00, Robber suddenly faces the prospect of losing his entire workforce, and is forced to scrap the wage change. Thus workers gain bargaining power by acting as a unit.
I believe that unions are unfair, in the same way that monopolies are unfair. If Apple and Microsoft can’t come together and decide to up the price of their computers, why can workers come together and decide to up the price of their labor? Both behaviors are anticompetitive. In the monopoly example, the tech companies win and consumers lose. In the unions example, the union wins and the company loses. Now, it’s much more palatable to see companies lose than to see people lose. But consider that, in the unions case, also losing is everyone in the workforce not in a union. They’ll have a harder time finding or keeping a job, given that companies have less money to spend on labor. Also, when companies lose, we’re all hurt in the long run. How do you think Detroit went bankrupt? Ford and GM lost market share to non-unionized foreign automakers! Well, mismanagement may have also been a factor. In any case, though, both unions and monopolies represent collusion, and shouldn’t be allowed.
So, what about the aforementioned voting cartel? I think it’s also unfair, even dangerous. Sure, it’s great for its members; voting together increases the chance of a successful vote. Put it this way: when you decide to vote for Marco Rubio, the chances your vote will matter are astronomically small. However, when the leader of the Tea Party, through social media or whatever platform, decides to tell everyone to vote for Marco Rubio, the chances that his decision will influence the outcome of the election are high indeed. In fact, imagine a voting cartel so huge it encompasses the majority of the electorate. The likelihood that this cartel’s decisions will be decisive is 100 percent! Of course, it would be difficult to unite such a large population under one ideology, and the risk that its members would defect or split into factions would be high. Still, though, if such a group could remain cohesive, it would possess complete control of the government, which would be quite dangerous indeed.
This brings me back to my point: while voting cartels are great for its members, they, like any other organization designed to reduce competition, hurt everyone else. Imagine that, in response to Tea Party pressure, Rubio changes his stance on immigration and fights against amnesty. He would be taking a stance that he doesn’t believe in, simply because he couldn’t withstand the influence of one powerful voting group. Of course, pandering for votes is an inevitability, but voting cartels only increase the opportunity to pander. If everyone votes as an individual, no one opinion is elevated over any other. However, if people vote as a bloc, the opinion held by that bloc holds a lot of weight, since losing that bloc could be detrimental to reelection prospects. Voting cartels could gain so much power that politicians have to choose between siding with the cartel and unemployment.
So, should organized voting be illegal? Well, maybe in theory, but it would be extremely hard to identify and enforce. If an influential Tea Party leader isn’t allowed to tweet “Vote for Candidate A,” am I barred from posting a Facebook status urging my friends to “Vote for Candidate B?” It seems that collectivized voting, and the danger that comes with it, is just another problem inherent to democracy.
- Senate passes sweeping immigration bill
- For some in Tea Party, Rubio is not conservative enough
- Marco Rubio Spurned by Original Tea Party Supporters Over Immigration