Monday, November 3, 2014
Getting Out the Vote
It’s wrong to badger, nag or shame people to vote. It is their right to vote, but no one says they must vote. Some folks may not feel like it or just don’t care enough. Some may think their choices in the big races are equally bad and are not voting as a silent protest, though this doesn’t seem to have improved the quality of the candidates we keep getting. For some reason, the major parties and the news media seem to think that these people should vote anyway just to exercise their right. (They also have a right to own a gun, but you don’t see public service announcements urging people to go out and exercise this right, that it’s something they should do, and that they are lazy or unpatriotic if they don’t!)
If someone doesn’t intend to or might forget to vote, will this same person, if reminded or nagged take the time to do the research to get educated about the candidates and their relative positions on the issues? I suspect those odds are quite low. They will vote for the most familiar name – that’s why, as much as we complain about Congress, incumbents are consistently reelected well over 95% of the time. They will vote on gut instinct or appearance, such as culturally favored facial features. “There is no evidence that these facial features actually predict how well politicians will perform in office. But studies of the brain’s response to winning and losing candidates show that we are biologically predisposed to reject candidates who lack the (physical) attributes we value.” (Source: D. Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow. 2011, p.91) Other studies have shown similar results. We use the same rationale to elect senators as we do for homecoming queens.
What we get then are uninformed voters heading to the polls to make selections based on irrelevant criteria, but that does not stop the public service announcements and other tactics. The major parties in key states are even going so far as to try to shame people into voting. They usually contact them through the mail listing their voting records. “One of the mailings lists two other people from the recipient's neighborhood, with data about whether they voted in the last three elections” with names and addresses removed. Apparently in Florida they have become even more blatant and include the names and addresses of neighbors. The flyers imply that someone is tracking and reviewing these records to make sure you vote this time. They also try to use social pressure, including Facebook, to get to the polls those voters most likely to favor their party based on demographics. Many voters resent this intrusion into what they consider their private lives, but they don’t know who to blame.
Just as people who own guns, because it is their right, have an obligation to understand the proper use, storage and safety aspects of gun ownership; those who vote, because it is their right, have an obligation to understand the issues and be able to see through the negative ads and misrepresentations of opposing candidates and PACs. It is irresponsible for the media, political parties or anyone else to herd a bunch of uninformed voters to the polls for the sake of exercising a right. Those who want to vote will usually have enough interest to become informed voters and will get there on their own. The rest should stay home.