Why You Should Always, Always Vote (and arguments to the contrary are totally wrong.)

For a while, I’ve noticed a growing trend (especially among my more liberal friends) to argue either that voting doesn’t matter or even directly against voting.  None of these positions hold water, and today an incredibly erroneous anti-voting blog post by my (usually) very reasonable friend Travis Mushett has convinced me that it’s time to finally put these arguments to bed.

We have two claims to refute:

1)   Electoral margins of victory are always so large that one vote (effectively) never matters.

2)   By not voting, constituents can threaten their candidate into adopting more desirable policies.

These claims may seem rather different but they’re vulnerable to the same counter-argument, which runs as follows:

Voting doesn’t just select a winner in a single election. It is also reliably registers the preferences of the electorate.

Remember that we live in representative republic (not a democracy) wherein the voters select a set of broad goals reflecting their “desired state of the world” and then elect officeholders who they think are most likely to achieve those goals.

Our representatives are highly sensitive to the preferences of the people who elect them (i.e. they represent us). And as such, their policy positions are highly malleable and shift as the preferences of the electoral shift.

How do politicians know which way the winds are blowing? They’re pragmatic enough to know better than to listen to the talking heads on TV or in the blogosphere, who for a variety of reasons almost always advocate more radical positions than the general electorate supports. Instead, they watch the voting data.

When politicians win with large margins, they move toward the median of their party. When they win by narrow margins, they move toward the center. If they don’t move, primary challenges will smell blood in the voting results and knock off the incumbent. The rare politician who fights a pyrrhic battle is quickly replaced.

It’s really that simple.

If you don’t vote, the politicians who do win (and someone always wins) will govern as if you don’t exist. Even if you do vote, they still won’t give much weight to your individual opinion. But given that we live in a nation of 300,000,000-some people, there are 299,999,999 people who’d feel rather cheated if the president started taking your calls. 

If you want more influence, go convince other people to vote for what you want. There is no other way.