Why You Shouldn’t Vote in an Election

by JDH on November 17, 2012

Is there any point in voting in an election? Since the end of the 2012 U.S. election, which of course marks the start of the 2016 U.S. election campaign, I have pondered this question, and there are two opposing points of view.

The traditional view is that in a democracy we all have a responsibility to “make our voice heard.”

Seth Godin, marketing guru, in his Why Vote blog posting makes the case that all a political marketer cares about is getting more votes than the other guy, so they only care about people who vote. If you “opt out of the marketplace” you are invisible; they don’t care what you think. However, he says:

The magic of voting is that by opting in to the system, you magically begin to count. A lot.

If you don’t like negative ads, for example, then vote for the candidate who ran even 1% fewer negative ads. Magically, within a cycle or two, the number of negative ads begins to go down.

I’m a fan of Mr. Godin’s; I’ve read his books, and I read his blog, but his perspective on elections is very naive.

One guy voting for the candidate that runs “1% fewer negative ads” will make no difference whatsoever. It’s silly to believe that “within a cycle or two, the number of negative ads begins to go down.” There is no evidence that that is true. In fact, the opposite is true because, negative ads work. Obviously people love them, so regardless of whether or not you think you don’t like them, they will continue. And that’s the problem with our current democracy: the majority rules. The fact that I would like to see all negative ads eliminated doesn’t matter, because as long as they work, they will continue to run, regardless of what I think. The majority likes them; they were used extensively by Obama in 2012; he got re-elected, so nothing will change.

I predict that next election cycle there will be even more negative ads, because they work. Alas, that’s the exact opposite of what Mr. Godin believes should, and would, happen.

The opposite viewpoint of the traditional “we should all vote to make our voice heard” is the equally emphatic statement that “we should not vote, because it only encourages them.” Politicians saw that Obama ran negative ads and he got re-elected, so future politicians will do the same. They are encouraged to do so by the success that Obama had in 2012. Try this thought experiment:

If no-one voted for President, what would happen?

Okay, if you think that’s a silly question, let me start with an easier question:

In your local town council election, if no-one voted for your local town councilor/alderman/ward representative or whatever they are called in your local area, what would happen? What if only one person voted? I guess that one vote would be enough to get someone elected. Would that elected official, elected by only one vote, go around bragging about how he or she has a mandate for massive change? I doubt it. In fact, I assume it would be the opposite. That elected official would realize that they have no mandate whatsoever, and would “keep their head down” and “not rock the boat”.

And that, in simple terms, is the problem with voting in elections. It only encourages them.

It results in the bizzaro-world post-election press conference of President Obama, held on November 14, 2012, where he said, with a straight face, that “I’ve got one mandate. I’ve got a mandate to help middle class families“.

There are approximately 250 million adults living in the U.S. Approximately 62.6 million of them voted for Obama for President in 2012 (about 59 million voted for Romney). In other words approximately 25% of the adult population voted for the winner. Stated another way, 75% of adults did not vote for Obama, and yet he’s the president, and he can go around talking about the mandate he’s got from the American people.

This is not an Obama vs. Romney discussion. 75% of adults didn’t vote for Romney, either. My point is that because 62 million people voted for Obama, that gives him the impression that he has a mandate to bring in to law whatever crazy policies he can think of.

So, back to my thought experiment:

If instead of getting 62 million votes Obama only got 1 million votes, as long as that was more than the votes the other guy got, Obama would still be president. But if only 1% of the population voted for him, we he be talking about a mandate?

I think not.

And that, quite simply, is why I don’t think you should vote in elections. It only encourages the winners to think they have a “mandate” to do silly things.

By “silly things” I mean that they may actually do some of the things they said they would do to get elected. Getting elected is actually conceptually quite simple: promise everything. The more you promise, the greater your chances of getting elected. Promise free medical care, and free food, and free wars, and whatever else people want. If anyone asks how you will pay for it, just say you will “tax the rich” (because no-one thinks of themselves as rich), and say you will “cut the fat” (because no-one believes that their program is “fat”). That’s it.

What most winning candidates don’t realize is that very few voters actually vote for anyone. It’s my perception that we tend to vote against the other guy. Republicans voted against Obama, because they see him as evil. Democrats voted against Romney because, as a corporate raider, they see him as evil. How many Americans, in 2012, actually voted for Obama because of all the good they thought he would do? America is finishing four years of economic turmoil, high unemployment, and massive debt. America is at war with many countries in the world (declared or not). Were a lot of Americans voting for that? I don’t think so. I think they were voting against the other guy, who they think would be even worse.

We vote for the lesser of two evils. That’s how it works. That’s how we see it.

Unfortunately, that’s not how the winner sees it. He views himself as the winner, the person people voted for. He doesn’t see himself as the lesser of two evils, he sees himself as the winner, with a mandate, to actually do the crazy things he proposed during the election.

I realize that it makes us feel important to vote. We like to think that our vote counts, that we are making a difference. Sorry folks, but your vote doesn’t count. Unless the election is decided by one vote, your vote doesn’t matter. Whether you vote or not, the result is the same. However, by voting, you are giving credence to the winner’s view that he has a mandate, and that’s scary.

Okay, Smart Guy, What’s The Solution?

Simple. Don’t vote.

But if I don’t vote, I have no right to complain……..

I disagree. In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite. If you participated in the sham that is our modern electoral system, you are responsible for whomever got elected. By not voting you can’t be blamed for the result. You can sleep easy, knowing that you are not the cause of our current problems.

Whoa, hold on, a “sham” of an electoral system? Isn’t democracy preferable to all other alternatives?

Perhaps, but our system is a sham.

Independent groups in American can spend whatever they want, and in 2012 they spent over $522 million to advance their cause. It’s reasonable to assume that the people writing the checks for $522 million have more influence on the politicians than you do, standing anonymously in a voting booth. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Total spending, by all candidates, was over $6 billion in 2012.

$6 billion.

Can you think of a better use for $6 billion? You know, like feeding the hungry, or providing medical care, or whatever? I thought so.

Again, the point is that the people with the influence are the people with the money. Voting doesn’t give you power in our current system; money does.

Okay, again, smart guy, what’s the solution?

If we don’t vote, how can we influence government? That’s the wrong question. A better question is “why do we need to influence government?” The answer to that question is the solution to our problem.

If government was really small, it wouldn’t really matter who was the leader, because their decisions, good or bad, would only have minimal impact on your life. No-one would think to spend $6 billion on an irrelevant election.

How much campaign money is spent each year to elect the president of your book club? Or your running club? Or your gardening club? Not much, I assume, because the winner will have very little impact on your life.

Contrast that with our current situation: If I’m a defense contractor, I want to know that my tools of war will be bought by the government, so I have to spend a lot to get my candidate elected. If the government wasn’t fighting a lot of foreign wars, there would be no defense industry, so no need for the defense industry to spend a lot on elections.

The same is true for the banking industry, the pharmaceutical industry, and every other industry that depends on government largess.

Shrink government, and you shrink election spending.

Hey, if we did that, I might even show up to vote……….

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