I don’t vote. I think it’s a waste of time. I think it achieves absolutely nothing worthwhile. I think it is a pleasant but vacuous idea which people blindly indulge in to make themselves feel like they matter. It is today’s opiate of the people.
To explain why, let me ask you this question: what is a vote actually worth?
Let’s look at your vote in the context of all the votes that will be cast. I don’t know what the official figures are for Ireland but I’m going to use 2 million as a rough estimate.
So, out of 2 million points, your vote is worth precisely… 1. And one two millionth is hardly an encouraging proportion.
To quote my old CSPE book: “What does one voice matter?”
I always found it very amusing that those books tried to convince us that a vote was worthwhile with a picture of lots of little cartoon men asking “what does one voice matter?”, only to realize that when you add up all their individual voices you DO get something that matters.
But when you stop and think about it isn’t this a strange way to argue for the worth of the individual? Isn’t there a big difference between “one vote” and “loads of one votes”?
Yes, when you add them all up then all these votes do matter. Unfortunately, that has nothing to do with you. When you walk into a polling station you do not cast “loads of one votes”; you cast precisely “one”. You do not speak for everyone, you speak for you and you alone.
One vote does not equal loads of votes. It only ever equals one. One out of 2 million. In my opinion, that is worth approximately…… nothing!
When it comes down to it, your vote does not change any important decision. Unless an election literally came down to one single vote, your single vote has not changed its outcome. It’s kind of like playing the lottery except… well… you can’t actually win.
Your vote does not affect the outcome. I’ll say it again: IT HAS ZERO EFFECT. All it affects is the analyses that occur after the fact. When the politicians and journalists and lobby groups crunch the numbers to determine public opinion–that is where your vote has an effect. Your vote is found in the opinion polls, in the pie-charts, and in the numerical reports that these people deal in.
And it’s not even worth much there. At the end of the day, you are a fraction of a percentage on a bar chart. (And if the bar chart doesn’t deal in fractions… Well you’re basically not there at all!) Your effect is a tiny, negligible, essentially imperceptible drop in the sea of factors that determine what people will vote for in the future, and how people will try to control that.
Your effect is this: .00005% of people thought X.
Now, it doesn’t matter what is being voted for: I’m discussing the merits of the mechanism, not the things being voted on.
Let’s take something else as an example: a million euro. Everyone would agree that a million euro is a very valuable thing. However, if it was divided among 2 million people, the individual dividend would be… 50 cent. Would you find that worthwhile? So it is for me with voting.
Compare it also with giving money to charity. Imagine Ireland’s active votership collectively raised 2 million euro for charity. This is a good thing. People would give out to you if you said you weren’t bothered: “What do you mean not bothered?!? Is 2 million euro for the starving not important to you?!?” Well, yes, of course it is. But if I fail to donate–be it because of apathy, an analysis like this one, or even a bad dose of the flu–it does not mean that the 2 million euro never materialises. No: it just means that 1 euro less is donated to those people. A loss for them, yes, but a relatively tiny one. And you know what? The press release would probably round it up to 2 million euro anyway. That’s how little your vote matters.
So… what is a vote actually worth? To sum it up, not much at all.
I’d rather not waste my time.
Some arguments against my position:
One of the best arguments I can think of against my position is that I am being selfish: I am only considering the worth of something as it’s worth to me. Voting is not only good for you, it is good for everyone who is affected by the vote’s outcome. (For simplicity’s sake let’s assume that the realm of politicians is one of great honor and integrity.) Therefore, although your vote achieves almost nothing, the fact that it is for the good of others makes it more valuable than something purely self-serving (i.e. sitting at home instead).
In response I would say that your altruism would be better employed elsewhere. Instead of taking 30 minutes to vote, spend an extra 30 minutes working and donate the money to charity–hell, go to McDonalds and buy someone a happy meal! Spend 30 minutes with your grandparents. Congratulations! You’ve just made the world a better place than your vote ever would.
Here are some more objections:
1. If everybody thought the way you did then what would happen?
That would be an interesting point except for one problem: clearly, everyone doesn’t.
Please, call me when they do. You won’t find me though–I’ll be busy voting!
It’s an interesting question at which point few enough people vote for it to be worthwhile; the fewer people that vote the more valuable your individual vote becomes. Everyone will have a different threshold (on one end there are probably people who will vote no matter what, and on the other probably people who will only vote if their vote is guaranteed to be the decider). However, I’m willing to bet that enough people value voting around the level that we have now that the threshold will never drop very low.
And that’s too high for me.
2. “Your great-grandparents died so you could have this vote.”
You know what? I really don’t care.
Parents? Care very much. Grandparents? Care very much. Great-grandparents onwards? Couldn’t give two hoots.
My ancestors undoubtedly fought–and even died–for many causes throughout their lifetimes. The right for women to vote? The natural dominance of men over women? The right to own a slave? You’ll excuse me if I don’t see how their opinions force some binding moral contract upon me. I like to value things for what they are actually worth (based in this moment, upon my own best judgement), not what some romanticized stranger once believed.
Besides, maybe great-great-granddaddy Murray fought for the good ol’ absolute monarchy?
3. “You have a civic duty to vote.”
Ah! One of the great “Dogmas of Democracy”! (Yes, I made that up right there! Catchy isn’t it?). Thou shalt not blaspheme the sacred altar of the polling booth! To me it just looks like something that people made up to justify the importance of voting. Need to make something unquestionable? Call it a duty.
I find it funny that rhetoric which at one second pronounces individual empowerment (“it’s YOUR voice”) turns to social duty (“but it’s not for you, it’s for your COUNTRY”) in the next. How aptly political.
4. “Young people aren’t voting enough. You need to do your part so they get a voice in society.”
I am not the representative of young people and they are not representative of me.
Moreover, why is this even an issue in the first place? It’s not like there’s some strange curse on the people now aged 20-30, whereby 30 years down the road political commentators will be baffled by the strange group of 50-60 year-olds who suffer from an extraordinary amount of political apathy,unlike their younger and older brethren.
Because here’s the thing: people generally start voting more as they get older. People who are in their 20s now and not voting will one day be in their 50s and probably utilizing their vote quite often.
For simplicity’s sake let’s say that people start voting at 30 (whereupon they suddenly become civilly responsible) and stop at 80 (whereupon they keel over dead. Cheerio!). Everyone gets 50 years to vote; everyone has an equal and sizable chance to have their input into society.
There’s really no problem at all. Currently young people have just as much voice in society as their currently older peers do. Because nobody stays young or alive forever.
In fact, forcing people who are young now to vote NOW gives them TEN EXTRA YEARS of voting and therefore MORE of a voice in politics than their elders. When you look at it that way doesn’t it seem rather unfair? We’d have to ban them from voting after 70 to even things out.
Best keep things the way they are. Let’s all have an equally irrelevant say ^_^