Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Voting - Part II

I suggested that as a practical matter, your vote didn't count for much. Let me pursue that a bit further.

Your vote will have no practical effect.  Elections are binary and you don’t elect part of a candidate. In other matters, such as feeding the hungry or bringing poetry to Nunavut, doing your little bit has some value.  In voting, not so much. This may sound odd from someone writing from New Hampshire, where a senatorial race did supposedly come down to two votes on the second recount in 1974. Except that it didn’t really. It was decided by a runoff election. I imagine there have been tied or one-vote elections a few times in the history of the republic, but c’mon now. It doesn't happen.  Examples of elections that were very, very close don't change that. A whole lot of that is guesswork and wishful thinking. Party leaders reading the tea leaves does not reliably.  These are essentially narcissists who engage in much more wishful thinking than the average bear. The cold, hard-edged realists exist, but they are not reliably listened to.

Exception 1:  Things get a little fuzzier if we are discussing whether your overall political actions have any effect. Somebody’s deciding something somewhere, after all. There are countries where the votes are 99% for Dear Leader, and we don't, at least, have that. {We all imagine that we are having some effect when we share memes - those oversimplified distortions on facebook announcing what nice people we are or how evil and stupid those other people are. Perhaps so. How often are you influenced?} My wife used to have outsize influence in local elections because she had done the research and friends would call her the night before, asking who to vote for.  There is evidence that thought leaders and opinion leaders actually exist, folks whose support for a candidate or idea does influence others.  Yet even these only function among the people half on their side already. Correction: among people 75% on their side already. You can sometimes discover who they are by examining who influences you.
Exception 2: Campaigns and organisations are always looking for volunteers.  They must have some reason to suspect that this helps them sway opinions.  Rides to the polls might actually be the biggest assist you can give.

If you are one of those exceptions, maybe your vote is actually worth 10x or 100x, because 9 or 99 people are just following you wherever you go. Yet it's not exactly your vote, then, but your contribution to the hive mind.  But how many elections are decided by even 100 votes? Face it.  If you stayed home that morning, nothing would change.  People vote because they like to participate. They especially like to be on the winning team, but there is a satisfaction in standing for the long twilight struggle as well.

That hive mind thing sounds critical and condescending but it's only a little of that.  We live in a society that gets to choose, we get to mutually influence each other, and participating in that is fine.  Voting is only the anchor point proving that it's not a purely artificial exercise.  Ignored and downtrodden groups have long had some power even though not participating in the pre-voting influencing because they can, in the end, anonymously vote.  Daniel Ortega lost an election because of many silent women who didn't like him and cast their vote in safety. The whole idea of a Silent Majority might have been overrated, but it resonated because it encouraged people to show up on the chance that they weren't helpless. 

This is long enough that I will call it Part IIA instead of Part II. Still, reflect on this.  The voting, on an individual level, is very close to meaningless.  Most of what we tell ourselves in contradiction to that can be quickly exploded.  You don't me to explode it, you can do it yourself.  Yet something important is still happening, I still recommend you vote, and we will get to what all that is.

We might even get to three parts.


Boxty said...

Meh, the same could be said about civilization. One person acting "discivic" (to use a term coined by the alt-right) or not procreating isn't going to influence society much.

I hope the payoff in part III is worth it for such a long read. :)

Christopher B said...

Hmmm .. you're still not getting over the 'pile of sand' problem to me. I understand it's not a specific vote that counts. In theory, drawing a single ballot at random from those cast to determine the election winner would be just as valid as our attempts to collect and quantify votes. But you still have to have the votes, and at some point enough people deciding "meh, my one vote's not worth it" will have an impact. A lot of what I'm reading about Trump's voter enthusiasm factor vs. Hillary's ground game will be a good test of this assumption.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

For clarity, I am speaking to individuals, not about some general collection of people. I am talking about you, and you're vote. This will become important later.

But even without that, I think people are overrating the importance of the vote. Maybe you are an opinion leader, and you contribute heavily to that sense of general enthusiasm this election and you drive people to the polls and all that. It's still not much. While it is true that a 1% influence in enthusiasm distributed over a million people is a lot of votes, it is also true that almost no one has a 1% ingluence, and your vote distributed over a million people is nothing. As Bush and Cheney were accused of "talking down the economy" and this seemed unfair in 2000 (they turned out to be right, but made the political calculation to shut up about it anyway), so draining energy from the team by talking down the importance seems disloyal.

But a million people is a lot of people, and you're not.

james said...

"Did we in our own strength confide..." "For I think the explanatory power of devils is yuge."

james said...

BTW, your critique holds on the national level, at the state level, and the megalopolis level. My town is small enough that I could, with effort and a lot of door-to-door smiling, have a fair to middling shot at becoming one of the alder-critters. (Not interested. Maybe school board.)

Christopher B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Christopher B said...

AVI, I see where you are coming from in terms of influence leaders and largely agree hardly any of us can have a meaningful impact in that area. I'm still not getting how you are connecting that lack of influence with a decision to cast a ballot in secret that really should have no influence on anybody else.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I have already said "vote anyway," though I do have a twist on why that should be.

jaed said...

We briefly interrupt your voting topic to note that "ingluence" has been awarded the Typo Of The Year trophy. It makes me think of people who are glued to one's views.