Thursday, October 06, 2011

Get Out and Vote... If You Happen To Agree With My Values...

Gatineau - QC - Museum of Civilisation


Today is a voting day in Ontario. and I see signs around encouraging people to vote. I remember the "rock the vote" campaign in the 1980s trying to do the same thing. What's striking to me about these initiatives is that they are trying to get people to vote at all, rather than trying to get people to vote for a particular cause or person.

If the goal is to increase voter turnout without biasing in favor of a particular cause of candidate, then it makes sense to target everyone, not a particular demographic that might vote in a particular way. The ultimate goal would be to increase voter turnout for all of the issues or candidates on the table. If you're targeting people would tend to vote liberal, then you'd get more liberal votes, relatively, than conservative. This would be disingenuous with the stated mission of the cause.*

This is where it stops making sense to me.

Let's assume that the primary reason for a vote is to determine a winner. Equally increasing the number of votes for all issues or candidates, which is what these initiatives seem to want to do, would, if successful, lead to no difference in the outcome of the vote.  So in terms of the primary objective of a voting system, these initiatives make no sense at all.

It is not as though there is no cost. Money and time are spent trying to get people to vote-- resources that could be put to making a real difference in this world. On top of that, for every extra person they get to vote is at least a half hour of wasted time for that person. Wasted, because if these initiatives are successful, your vote is cancelled out by someone else's anyway.

There are other benefits of having a lot of people vote. The country can be proud of itself, claiming that the people care about politics. However I think this is a minor benefit and certainly not worth it.

I will anticipate a counter argument. Perhaps, if everyone were equally encouraged to vote, there would be a different outcome of the election-- perhaps people who don't normally vote, as a group, tend to favor one position over another. In fact, I believe this is true. Poor people vote less, and poor people tend to be more liberal. In this case, the stated goal might be greater turnout, but the either hidden or unanticipated consequence would be an increase in the relative amount of liberal votes.

So if you're out there, trying to get people to vote for what you believe in, I get it. But if you're just trying to get people to vote, what is the point? I'm not asking rhetorically; I really have no idea what they have in mind. Think of the opportunity cost with this activism-- isn't there some science you could be doing?

*When I use terms like "liberal" I'm not referring to specific parties that might be called "liberal." I'm referring to the general political outlook.



Pictured: The Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec. 
Wladyslaw [FAL, GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons


Pictured: a graphic showing values differences between the left and right wings. From the blog "Information is Beautiful."
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