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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Why Vote? It's a Duty. Full Stop.

At the DC Decoder blog, I debunk the slogan, "Your vote can make a difference!" No, in a country with more than 140 million registered voters, the chance that your vote could tip an election is comparable to your chance of getting Ebola -- effectively zero.  

Another silly slogan is "If you don't vote, you have no right to complain!" In light of the improbability of affecting the outcome, Jason Brennan writes whimsically:
I ran into someone this morning who complained about how poor he is. I told him, “If you’re not playing the lottery everyday, you forfeit your right to complain about being poor.” The problem with poor people is that they don’t buy enough Powerball tickets.
The most sensible argument for voting is the one that also enjoys the greatest support among the public.  It is a duty.

Andre Blais and Christopher Achen write:
We argue in this paper that, although caring about the outcome of the election is important, another motivation, the desire to fulfill one‘s civic duty, is equally consequential. When asked how important it is for the good citizen to always vote in elections, among Americans the mean score is 6.2 on a scale from 1 to 7, just slightly lower than obeying the laws and not evading taxes (Dalton 2008, 30). In the 2000 Annenberg election study (Annenberg 2010), 71% of Americans in the post-election survey agreed or strongly agreed that they felt guilty when they failed to vote. Even among those who reported that they had not voted, nearly half said they felt guilty. Blais (2000, 95) reports that more than 90% of respondents in two Canadian provinces agree with the statement that ―it is the duty of every citizen to vote.‖ The percentage is 80% in Britain (Clarke et al. 2004, 251). These responses are not induced by the survey question. In open-ended interviews about why they vote, the great majority of respondents volunteer that they feel a strong duty to appear at the polls (Blais 2000, chap. 5).
  • Annenberg Public Policy Center 2010. University of Pennsylvania., accessed February 26, 2010.
  • Blais, André. 2000. To Vote or Not to Vote. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.
  • Clarke, Harold D., David Sanders, Marianne C. Stewart, and Paul Whitely. 2004. Political Choice in Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Dalton, Russell. 2008.  The Good Citizen. CQ Press.