Politics is always a sticky subject. I’ve found that I can agree with someone in the entirety on virtually every issue and still end up voting for the exact opposite candidate because I believe that they are closer to realizing my goals, or simply because while we agree on issues we prioritize those issues differently.
As we approach any election–but especially this one–I start to see a lot of voter apathy. They aren’t happy with their options, they feel that their party is in a good position, they feel that their party isn’t doing enough, or they feel like one vote doesn’t matter. Regardless of the reason, they end up not spending the time to vote.
The question comes up, is it rational to vote? This question was analyzed by Aaron Edlin, Andrew Gelman and Noah Kaplan in their study Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote To Improve the Well-Being of Others where they state:
In a large election, the probability that a vote is decisive is small, but the social benefits at stake in the election are large, and so the expected utility benefit of voting to an individual with social preferences can be significant.
So while there may be conscious reasons to not vote, if you care about social welfare and the stakes are high (as they tend to be every two years), it can be a rational decision to vote.
But don’t just vote either. You can enhance you impact and help clean up the tone of politics with your vote and with how you treat that vote. Just voting is a bit like signing a petition: it can help do a great deal, but it helps even more if you amplify it through encouraging others to vote, education, and activism.
Getting out the Vote
If your vote rationally matters (as discussed above), then you can raise that impact by getting your friends and family to vote as well. This is why volunteers are always so important to campaigns: they help get people out and voting.
Even by the mere act of voting you can encourage others to vote (and the ones you encourage can encourage others), and thus increase your impact and the chance of realizing what you are looking for.
What’s more, a lot of people vote for things they later regret or that are actually contrary to their views, because there is so much propaganda, misinformation, and mudslinging. Sometimes amendments or positions are specifically worded as to mislead, or in some cases candidates will publish ads in specific audiences which say the exact opposite of what they stand for.
This is where research comes in. There are several things you can do to help here, and one of the best starts with registering for an absentee ballot. An absentee ballot gives you a lot of advantages for making informed choices: it lets you look through your options, do research, and not have to worry about remembering how you planned on voting.
There are also a variety of great resources to help people make informed decisions:
- Ballotpedia contains information on a wide variety of things that will appear on the ballot. It will tell you what amendments, for example, are on the ballot, history of similar attempts, text of the changes, arguments being put forth and against and by whom.
- Judgepedia has information on judges and links to their performance reviews.
- Project Vote-Smart and their project VoteEasy, which can help you ascertain candidates positions and help you match them with your own.
- GovTrack.us is a great site for tracking specific pieces of legislation and their status.
- Various fact checking sites. These are susceptible to their own kinds of bias and manipulation, but they are still essential to evaluating what is being claimed.
These are all great tools for helping people make informed choices about what is on their ballots. If it seems daunting don’t worry: just take it step at a time, starting with Vote-Easy for candidates and Ballotpedia for everything else.
President Obama is fond of saying that
change is not a spectator sport. There is a lot of truth to this, and I sometimes feel that many of the people who elected him felt that everything would be
fixed within a few weeks of him taking office and that their job ended with the vote they cast in November 2008.
That is not where the hard work for
change stopped, however, that is where it began.
Get out there and advocate for what you believe in. Donate money to organizations that you believe in the mission of, write letters to the President and Congress, and help get others to vote. Volunteer or donate in your local area for causes you believe in as well. Also: Don’t get discouraged. Ultimately, we need to be willing to accept that the
perfect is the enemy of the good and that progress is neither easy nor quick.
I have a tendency to vote for the candidate that I believe brings us closer to rational discourse. Not based, necessarily, on agreement with positions, but rather which candidate shows themselves to be intelligent, thoughtful, and rational? Which one do I think will make a good leader and which one do I think will sensibly evaluate the issues and listen to a variety of expert counsel.
Ultimately, that is the kind of conversation that I want to dominate politics.
Do I think that my vote this election will realize it? Not necessarily, especially not until we realize that plurality voting is horribly flawed and implement something like Approval Voting. However, when my vote will matter, I don’t want it to not pass because I wasn’t there or because those people who I could encourage to vote weren’t there.
If I want the dialog to change–which I do, desperately–then I believe that one of the best ways to do it is to vote and keep voting while advocating that others do the same.