When you pay for something, you get what you want. When you vote for something, you get what other people want.
Are you one of those people who like raisins in cookies? When given the choice, I pick chocolate chip. Indeed, everyone I know prefers chocolate chips. However, judging by the fact that I see raisin cookies in stores, there must be people out there who like them. (Pollsters cannot accurately count raisin people because no one admits to it.)
If you are one of those raisin people, you may be in the minority, but you can still get your first-choice cookie any time you go to a grocery store. That’s because, when you shop, you make a private choice (among available alternatives) with money.
If cookies were elected by voting, I predict we would only have chocolate chip cookies. The raisin people would be unhappy.
On a more serious note, many people are more than unhappy with the outcome of the recent U.S. election cycle. And, if the other major presidential candidate had been elected, there would still be millions of unhappy Americans.
Median Voter Theorem
Elections are complicated, and they are all different, but the Median Voter Theorem is a helpful way to think about what outcomes elections produce. The “median” voter is a hypothetical person who is right in the middle of a range of opinions.
For an example of a range of opinions within politics, think about censorship on the radio. At one end of the range, some people think that all rude language should be forbidden on the radio. At the other end of the range, some people think there should be no rules at all.
In an election, each person will vote for the candidate who is closest to their own views on censorship. So to win an election by a majority, a politician will tend to have a centrist approach. In this example, we would probably end up with a president promising some freedom and a short list of words that cannot be said on the radio.
Thus, most people will not get what they really wanted. For everyone except the median voter, their first choice is off the table.
If you want your favorite white chocolate macadamia nut cookie, your chances are best if the choice is made at the individual level instead of the national level. Our lives are affected by many collective decisions and not every collective decision is made through a popular vote. What choices did you make for yourself today? What choices were made for you?