One could ague that voting for the lesser of evils is nothing more than simple manipulation. The ruling class makes sure there are just two viable political parties, then it recruits a really creepy person from each party to run for a particular office. Voters therefore have no choice to choose one of two creeps...unless they choose to a) vote for some alternative candidate who has no chance of winning or b) not vote at all.

But it could also be argued that people too easily fall into a mental trap in which they're so fixated on twin evils that they fail to see the bigger picture. Rather than try to reform Party A or B or create a new party (or topple the government in a revolution), they just continue voting for garbage.

Can anyone put a name on this? In other words, does this type of manipulation prey on a particular cognitive bias?

If we put it into a question format...

If you don't vote for Candidate B, then you're automatically supporting Candidate A.

Or...

If you don't vote for either A or B, then you aren't a good citizen. You must vote, even if there's nothing to vote for!

...what fallacy is being invoked?

In fact, the two questions I asked above are different and probably merit separate questions. But, for now, I'd like to search for some kind of "ballpark fallacy" that relates to what I sometimes call Lesser-of-Evils Syndrome.

  • Not voting because neither choice is perfect is called the nirvana fallacy. Is that what you're asking? – EternalPropagation Dec 6 at 3:58
  • This is just a typical case of a false dichotomy/dilemma. See also Politician's Syllogism:"We must do something, this is something, therefore, we must do it". – Conifold Dec 6 at 19:45
  • @Conifold The dilemma is not "false" here since the candidate who gets the most votes is elected. Feel free to edit your comment with the correction. – EternalPropagation 2 days ago

Bo Bennet lists a possible candidate fallacy for this situation of having no apparent option as

There Is No Alternative: Discouraging critical thought by announcing that there is no realistic alternative to a given standpoint, status or action, ruling any and all other options irrelevant, or announcing that a decision has been made, and any further discussion is simply a waste of time (or even insubordination or disloyalty).

However, Bennett rates this as a "pseudo-logical fallacy", although others may consider it a logical fallacy, perhaps because it is more of a factual error than an error in reasoning.

The question also asks whether this type of manipulation preys on a particular cognitive bias. Wikipedia provides a list of cognitive biases to choose from. One possible cognitive bias from that list might be zero-sum thinking especially when the situation is described as If you don't vote for Candidate B, then you're automatically supporting Candidate A.:

Zero-sum thinking, also known as zero-sum bias, is a cognitive bias that describes when an individual thinks that one situation is like a zero-sum game, where one person's gain would be another's loss.

Regarding cognitive biases in general, Wikipedia also notes that there are controversies whether these are all "useless or irrational":

There are also controversies over some of these biases as to whether they count as useless or irrational, or whether they result in useful attitudes or behavior. For example, when getting to know others, people tend to ask leading questions which seem biased towards confirming their assumptions about the person. However, this kind of confirmation bias has also been argued to be an example of social skill: a way to establish a connection with the other person.

Just as what some describe as a logical fallacy may also be described by others, such as Bo Bennett, as a pseudo-logical fallacy, some may find cognitive biases socially useful rather than always useless or irrational.


Reference

Bennett, B, "Pseudo-Logical Fallacies", Logically Fallacious https://www.logicallyfallacious.com/tools/lp/Bo/LogicalFallacies/6/Pseudo-Logical-Fallacies

"List of cognitive biases", Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cognitive_biases

"Zero-sum thinking", Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-sum_thinking

  • 1
    In most cases in the US, either the Democrat will win or the Republican will win. Zero-sum thinking is valid in this case, as in many others. – David Thornley Dec 6 at 19:30
  • @DavidThornley I agree. Just because something is identified as a "bias" doesn't make it useless or irrational. Or even inaccurate. – Frank Hubeny Dec 6 at 19:51
  • @FrankHubeny The current state of society is a commons which literally create a zero-sum game. Feel free to edit your answer with the correction. – EternalPropagation 2 days ago

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