An able negotiator knows that a crucial step in entering any negotiation is understanding when to break off negotiations i.e., knowing your BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). To discover your BATNA, you must first determine your reservation value. Your reservation value is the lowest value at which you would consider the negotiation worthwhile. Once you have determined your reservation value you must  establish all possible alternatives to the negotiation. Finally, at any point during the negotiation, you can compare your reservation value to your possible alternatives and readily determine your best alternative, or your BATNA.

These are among the basic principles of negotiation, but they are not limited to negotiation. These are principles that can be applied to most decisions we face, from important, to less important decisions.

We are currently in the midst of an exciting contest for the Republican nomination for the Presidential Candidate to face off against incumbent President, Barrack Obama. Recently, voters in Iowa came out strongly in favor of Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum. I would like to explore why people voted for Santorum, and was it really better than their BATNA, using the principles laid above.

The first question is why cast a vote at a primary/caucus. I suppose that people vote because they want to participate in choosing the candidate who will represent their party in the general election and ultimately, serve as President. The second question is why vote for a specific candidate. This is a more difficult question because there is broad range of possibilities. Voters may believe that the candidate’s beliefs and opinions are most closely aligned with the voters’ own beliefs and opinions and because they would prefer a kindred spirit running the country, they will vote for that candidate. Other voters may not have strong feelings about the hot topic issues and instead looks for leadership qualities befitting a Head of State. Hopefully, most voters recognize that these considerations should not be considered in a vacuum, because a candidates opinions and leadership qualities, are both vitally important.

Following the principles of negotiation, I will attempt to demonstrate why voting for Santorum is  indefensible.  In this illustration, voting will take the place of sitting at the negotiating table. A voter must know his/her BATNA and so must first determine his/her reservation value. In voting in a primary, one could argue that there is no reservation value for voting, because there is no possible negative outcome for voting for the candidate of the voter’s choosing, in the way that remaining at the negotiating table can lead to agreeing to a deal detrimental to negotiator. Thus, there is no need to discover other alternatives or even the best alternative, because there is simply no point at which the voter will not vote (this discussion is not factoring in the de minimis costs of casting a vote such as time).

However, this analysis is fundamentally incorrect. There is a possible negative outcome for a voter who votes for an unelectable candidate such as Rick Santorum (of course if a republican voter’s second choice after Santorum is Obama, then the following discussion does not apply, but I do not believe that such a voter exists). A voter’s reservation value should include an analysis of the unelectability of the candidate. The voter must factor in the importance having a candidate from his/her own party win the election. Thus, the reservation value for voting for a specific candidate, must at the very least be the point at which a candidate will have a chance at winning the general election. Voting for an unelectable candidate is not only a waste of time and utility, but  also should be understood to be outside a voter’s ZOPA, or Zone Of Possible Agreement, and thus below the voter’s reservation value, and the voter’s BATNA would either be not voting, or voting for the most tolerable electable candidate.

Voting for Santorum in the hope that he will represent the Republican Party in the upcoming presidential election against Obama should be recognized as below any Republican voter’s reservation value of having a Republican in office. His stances on banning contraception gay marriage may have support from the far right, but will alienate the all important moderate republicans and independents and render him utterly unelectable. Voting for Santorum is akin to voting for Obama.