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It doesn’t matter, but it does


 

Ryan D. Enos and Anthony Fowler argue we vote for reasons beyond a belief that our vote will make an identifiable difference.

“I always vote.” “It’s a civic duty.” “Many have fought for our right to vote.” “Voting gives you the right to complain.” These were the types of answers we received. Most voters made no mention of issues, candidates, or policies. When asked about whether their vote would change the election results, most acknowledged that the chances were low. Nonetheless, many held out hope saying, “You never know” or “The election could be close.” It appeared that most voters had never even thought of the chances that their vote would matter until we asked them, and some admitted so. This observation tells us a lot about why people vote. If forced to think about it, most voters know that they won’t change an election result; but they don’t care.


 

It doesn’t matter, but it does

  1. If you look at election results on a per-poll basis, then one vote actually can make a difference. A given riding will probably have something like 250 or so polls, so if one person per poll does or doesn't vote, that can have a real impact, plenty of races decided by a margin smaller than that.

  2. Part of the reason people don't think their vote will count is that we are constantly inundated with polls telling us who will win. People know their one vote won't be enough to close that gap.

    Get rid of the poll results during an election, though, and they have no idea who is winning or how close the race is. Suddenly, maybe their lone vote WILL be the one to make a difference – at least in their own riding.

    Muzzle the pollsters if you want to see bigger voter turnout. The press might actually focus on isues or local candidates more if they have to fill up all those inches of print or all that air time with something other than dissecting the poll of the day.

  3. Your vote always matters. Sure, it'd be better in a proportional system, but even in our current system, your vote matters because its' part of the biggest poll of the people done in our country, and the most important poll of all to politicians. As such, you can damn well believe that they pay attention to it, not just to how many voted for them, but how many voted for the other guys.

    So if they see a significant number of people voting for the "No Pants Party" — even if not a single Pants-free MP gets elected — you can bet you'll start seeing them making noises about needing to revisit the indecent exposure laws.

  4. ." This observation tells us a lot about why people vote. If forced to think about it, most voters know that they won't change an election result; but they don't care"

    lol This is the good kind of not caring.

  5. This observation tells us a lot about why people vote. If forced to think about it, most voters know that they won't change an election result; but they don't care.

    I object to the "they don't care" insult. It suggests that they stubbornly perform the dumb ritual despite their knowing acceptance of its individual lack of worth. I submit that most "dedicated" voters have indeed thought that far, and beyond, to "…and if everybody thought it was meaningless we'd be in a horrible mess."

    I alone cannot make enough sandbags to prevent my little neighbourhood from getting flooded; if everybody else but me showed up, they'd probably do just fine. And if everybody stopped thinking at that point, we're doomed. So little meaningless one-person me pitches in, alongside a whole bunch of others, and look what happens…

  6. '"I have solved this political dilemma in a very direct way: I don't vote. On Election Day, I stay home. I firmly believe that if you vote, you have no right to complain. Now, some people like to twist that around. They say, 'If you don't vote, you have no right to complain,' but where's the logic in that? If you vote, and you elect dishonest, incompetent politicians, and they get into office and screw everything up, you are responsible for what they have done. You voted them in. You caused the problem. You have no right to complain. I, on the other hand, who did not vote — who did not even leave the house on Election Day — am in no way responsible for what these politicians have done and have every right to complain about the mess that you created."'

    George Carlin

  7. I read it more as a kind of hopeful stubborness. Refusing to bow to cynicism rather than dumb acceptance of duty.

    "When asked about whether their vote would change the election results, most acknowledged that the chances were low. Nonetheless, many held out hope saying, “You never know” or “The election could be close"

  8. I and my husband always vote. My thoughts are that if you don't vote, you have no reason to complain.

  9. If you look historically, gaining the right to vote was a status symbol, of wealth, 'respectability', or even gender. As long as there was an excluded 'other' who couldn't vote, the primary reason to vote was to demonstrate one's own superior social status. The issue now is that since pretty much everyone can vote, it is no longer a status symbol, & hence the diversity of essentially meaningless reasons & people not really knowing why they should vote.

  10. I like this idea. I don't think it's practical, and it would be utterly impossible to enforce, but I like it.

  11. Yeah, but look where that attitude got him.

  12. This is a rich section of theory and research in political science. There is no clear winner and multiple reasons come into play as to why people vote. Most theories work along variations of civic duty and/or utility – to which everything in this blog and the comments align.

  13. I always vote in the hope that no-one else will, and mine will be the only one that counts.

    It hasn't happened yet, but the trends make me optimistic.

  14. You mean right?

  15. Well, that's for sure! Here in Kitchener we actually have a ward where the councillor has won his seat by literally one vote. Not surprisingly, it is being contested (I would, too). I can't imagine how I'd feel if I leaned toward one of the two leading candidates, and didn't bother.

  16. I think this is the key. We should start telling people not to vote. I mean, at some point I expect someone will be bright enough to see what we're doing, but in the meantime . . .

    You go, Emily!

  17. You're talking to Spock, not me.

  18. Something I think the media needs to talk about more is the effect that votes have even when a candidate or party doesn't win. If incumbent X notices that challenger Y made great gains, he/she is going to consider what challenger Y was running on and try to find a way to move that way before the next election.

  19. Not just right, but famously so. Still, Carlin had a voice beyond the ballot box. Most of us can't pick up a microphone and influence the way people think about issues. He could.

  20. "I alone cannot make enough sandbags to prevent my little neighbourhood from getting flooded"

    Might I suggest you buy some larger equipment?

    You're not wrong, in fact you're right, but you should never pass up the chance to buy a larger tractor. If nothing else, it gives you something to pull your smaller tractor out of the mud with.

  21. Yeah, I knew that. The first part was to Spock. But I also knew I could count on you to read it!

  22. Then you might have noticed I was quoting George Carlin.

  23. So? Keep it up!

  24. Very much agreed. Polling has always rubbed me the wrong way. It seems like it has too much influence in shaping things.

  25. "Your vote always matters. Sure, it'd be better in a proportional system, but even in our current system, your vote matters because its' part of the biggest poll of the people done in our country, and the most important poll of all to politicians. As such, you can damn well believe that they pay attention to it, not just to how many voted for them, but how many voted for the other guys.

    So if they see a significant number of people voting for the "No Pants Party" — even if not a single Pants-free MP gets elected — you can bet you'll start seeing them making noises about needing to revisit the indecent exposure laws."

    Your so right it needs repeating.

  26. You have provided a reasonable refutation of Coyne's bizarre fetish for mandatory voting. I am more than happy seeing the lazy and the ignorant and the mischievous NOT being coerced (under threat of some penalty or other) to pollute the ballot box.

  27. I mean now he's dead.

  28. LOL well I hardly think that's unique to him.

  29. Meh. It's wrong on both sides.

    You're a citizen. In a democracy. Whether you vote or not, you're still a part of society, so if something bothers you about it, you have a right to complain.

    Of course, if you don't vote and complain, you can also be justifiably called an idiot for not taking advantage of one of the easiest means to try to have your complaints addressed.. but you still have the right to complain.

  30. Time is on your side.

  31. “I always vote.” “It's a civic duty.” “Many have fought for our right to vote.” “Voting gives you the right to complain.” These were the types of answers we received. Most voters made no mention of issues, candidates, or policies.

    I think there is a false connection being implied here. The answers are to the question "Why do you vote?", not "Why do you vote for one candidate rather than another?" That is the question which would require reference to issues and policies.

  32. It might be effective, but it's an unacceptable infringement of freedom of speech. And, of course, impossible to enforce.

  33. I think the counterargument to that is that a lot of lazy uninformed ignorant people vote anyway…

  34. Tell it to Dade county.

  35. Perhaps a lot of people don't vote because they know that even if the candidate they vote for wins, there's only, what, a 50/50 chance that their candidate will actually do the things they said they'd do (or avoid doing the things they promised never to do)?

    I mean, say you don't think that income trusts should be taxed, or you think our troops should be out of Afghanistan by 2011, or you think that we shouldn't be appointing unelected Senators, or you like that your candidate promised never to take us back into deficit, or you want hundreds of thousands of daycare spaces created, or you think that we should establish fixed election dates, or you're looking for a party that's "conservative"… just who are you supposed to vote for? (and yes, I could come up with an equally long list for pretty much every other party).

  36. I love that your reaction to that was "He's not the only person who's dead" and not "He didn't die because of not voting".

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